Smart Plugs Ignition System?

Dan Cordon cord4530 at
Fri Feb 13 14:07:48 EST 2004

> Ever heard of "Smart Plugs"? They claim (stolen from their web site
> "Advantages of SmartPlug Ignition Systems
> * No Distributor, Coil, Points or Moving Parts
> * No Modification to Engine Necessary
> * Ignites a Variety of Fuels
> * No Electrical Noise
> * No High Voltage
> * Non-fouling
> * Faster Burn
> * Cleaner Burn
> * Less Detonation
> * Moisture Insensitive
> * Can be used on a variety of engines
> * Exceptionally High Altitude Capabilities
> * Cold Starts Better than a Standard Spark Ignition System
> So, does anybody think this would work? eliminating the distributor and associated timing headaches seem like a good idea to me, but usually if an item seems too good to be true, it is.

Wow, this if really funny for me to see on the audi list. I work with 
these products on a daily basis. Much of the research we've done has 
been directly with the company (ARI) and we've helped them make 
improvements to their devices.

So, I can say they do work. How they work is entirely different than 
anything you're used to. It is really something to sit and watch an 
engine running while the distributor cap is off....watching the rotor 
spin around (for oil pump and visual effect). They do offer some 
distinct advantages, but have some issues too.

The ignition power is *FAR* larger than any spark. I ignite fuel 
composed of 50% ethanol and 50% water with no problem. It's also able to 
ignite homogeneous mixtures of diesel and JP8 fuel in a reciprocating 
piston engine. Also something a spark plug wouldn't ever dream of. 
There's typically a notable reduction in HC emissions (though those are 
easily cleaned up in the cat). They also extend the lean limits of 
ignition. We can run an engine at a 30:1 air fuel ratio. This is 
basically full throttle (no pumping losses from throttling) and just 
enough power to maintain highway speeds. ARI is currently working with a 
few japanese auto companies to see about implementing this technology in 
the future. I can't release any more details on that at this point.

Here's the bad.....ignition timing is no longer a discretely controlled 
parameter. The timing of ignition has *everything* to do with catalytic 
surface reaction rates, which is directly related to temperature of the 
catalyst. This is done with changes in igniter geometry instead of with 
signals from the ECU. While they have it working pretty well for 
naturally aspirated engines, turbochargers have been troublesome. The 
higher mixture temperatures are causing the timing to *advance* under 
boost....not what we want at all.

All said, it's a really interesting technology, but I wouldn't put it 
anywhere near my audi's at this point. Also, they're expensive. Count on 
~$200 per plug. Then more, there are longevity issues with some 
applications. They have had great success in airplane engines, rotary 
engines, NA auto engines, and even 2-strokes.

If you're interested in more information I'd always be happy to chat 
about it. Since I have no financial tie to the company, I like to think 
I can provide a far more honest assessment than someone that is very 
directly tied. If you talk to them directly, I'm quite sure they'll tell 
you it will work on whatever you want it to.

Dan Cordon
Mechanical Engineer
University of Idaho - Engine Research Facility

More information about the quattro mailing list