In the present study, the performance and emissions characteristics of three low-temperature plasma (LTP) ignition systems were compared to a more conventional strategy that utilized a high-energy coil (93 mJ) inductive spark igniter. All experiments were performed in a single-cylinder, optically accessible, research engine. In total, three different ignition systems were evaluated: (1) an Advanced Corona Ignition System (ACIS) that used radiofrequency (RF) discharges (0.5–2.0 ms) to create corona streamer emission into the bulk gas via four-prong electrodes, (2) a Barrier Discharge Igniter (BDI) that used the same RF discharge waveform to produce surface LTP along an electrode encapsulated completely by the insulator, and (3) a Nanosecond Repetitive Pulse Discharge (NRPD) ignition system that used a non-resistor spark plug and positive DC pulses (∼10 nanoseconds width) for a fixed frequency of 100 kHz, with the operating voltage-controlled to avoid LTP transition to breakdown. For the LTP ignition systems, pulse energy and duration (or number) were varied to optimize efficiency. A single 1300 revolutions per minute (rpm), 3.5 bar indicated mean effective pressure (IMEP) homogeneous operating point was evaluated. Equivalence ratio (ϕ) sweeps were performed that started at stoichiometric conditions and progressed toward the lean limit.
Both the ACIS and NRPD ignition systems extended the lean limit (where the variation of IMEP < 3%) limit (ϕ = 0.65) compared to the inductive spark (ϕ = 0.73). The improvement was attributed to two related factors. For the ACIS, less spark retard was required as compared to spark ignition due to larger initial kernel volumes produced by four distinct plasma streamers that emanate into the bulk gas. For the NRPD ignition system, additional pulses were thought to add expansion energy to the initial kernel. As a result, initial flame propagation was accelerated, which accordingly shortens early burn rates.