Non-premixed combustion of directly-injected natural gas offers diesel-like performance and efficiency with lower fuel costs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. To ignite the fuel, a separate ignition source is needed. This work reports on the initial development of a new hot-surface based ignitor, where a small quantity of natural gas is injected and ignited by a hot element. This generates a robust pilot flame to ignite the main gas injection. A series of experimental tests were conducted to evaluate the sensitivity of the pilot flame formation process to hot surface temperature and geometry and to gas pilot injection geometry. Tests were conducted in a constant-volume combustion chamber at up to 6 bar with hot surface temperatures up to 1750 K. Reacting-flow computational fluid dynamics (CFD) evaluation is used to help interpret the results and to extrapolate to engine-relevant pressures. The results show that hot surface temperatures around 1500 K can minimize the pilot ignition time. An injector geometry where the pilot gas jets are angled such that they impinge on the hot surface but retain sufficient momentum to convect mass into the main chamber helps to ensure rapid and stable ignition. The CFD results indicate that, at engine pressures, a stable gas pilot flame could be established within 1–2 ms using the proposed injector geometry. These results will be used to underpin further development activities on this concept.

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