Air separation membranes (ASMs) could potentially replace exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology in engines due to the proven benefits in NOx reduction but without the drawbacks of EGR. Previous investigations of nitrogen-enriched air (NEA) combustion using nitrogen bottles showed up to 70% NOx reduction with modest 2% nitrogen enrichment. The investigation in this paper was performed with an ASM capable of delivering at least 3.5% NEA to a single-cylinder spark-ignited natural gas engine. Low temperature combustion is one of the pathways to meet the mandatory ultra low NOx emissions levels set by regulatory agencies. In this study, a comparative assessment is made between natural gas combustion in standard air and 2% NEA. Enrichment beyond this level degraded engine performance in terms of power density, brake thermal efficiency (BTE), and unburned hydrocarbon emissions for a given equivalence ratio. The ignition timing was optimized to yield maximum brake torque for standard air and NEA. Subsequently, conventional spark ignition was replaced by laser ignition (LI) to extend lean ignition limit. Both ignition systems were studied under a wide operating range from ψ:1.0 to the lean misfire limit. It was observed that with 2% NEA, for a similar fuel quantity, the equivalence ratio (Ψ) increases by 0.1 relative to standard air conditions. Analysis showed that lean burn operation along with NEA and alternative ignition source, such as LI, could pave the pathway for realizing lower NOx emissions with a slight penalty in BTE.

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