It is a very challenging problem to reliably ignite extremely lean mixtures, especially for the low speed, high load conditions of stationary large-bore natural gas engines. If these engines are to be used for the distributed power generation market, it will require operation with higher boost pressures and even leaner mixtures. Both place greater demands on the ignition system. The railplug is a very promising ignition system for lean burn natural gas engines with its high-energy deposition and high velocity plasma jet. High-speed photography was used to study the discharge process. A heat transfer model is proposed to aid the railplug design. A parameter study was performed both in a constant volume bomb and in an operating natural gas engine to improve and optimize the railplug designs. The engine test results show that the newly designed railplugs can ensure the ignition of very lean natural gas mixtures and extend the lean stability limit significantly. The new railplug designs also improve durability.

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