Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Mechanical, Automotive, and Materials Engineering


flame kernel initiation, gas flow, spark current, spark duration, spark ignition, spark plasma


Ming M.Z. Zheng


David D.T. Ting




The main objective of this research was to study the mechanisms of the spark ignition process of lean or diluted fuel-air mixtures under enhanced gas flow conditions for applications in future internal combustion engines. Various spark ignition strategies were deployed by controlling the spark discharge process via different spark ignition hardware configurations. Modulated spark discharge parameters, such as enhanced discharge power, prolonged discharge duration, and boosted discharge current were facilitated in the research. The impact of gas flow on the spark discharge process in air was investigated under varying air flow conditions with a range of flow velocities from 0 m/s to 60 m/s. The ignition performance of the spark strategies was investigated with lean or diluted fuel-air mixtures under controlled gas flow conditions in an optical constant volume combustion chamber test platform. The mixture flow velocity across the spark gap ranged from 0 m/s to 35 m/s during the combustion tests.Experiments were carried out with air as the background media. Short circuits and restrikes were observed under air flow conditions. The frequency of these occurrences increased with increased air flow velocity. The length of the spark plasma increased, due to the stretch of the plasma channel by the air flow. The plasma was stretched at a speed similar to the air flow velocity across the spark gap. The maximum length of the spark plasma was affected by the air flow velocity and the spark gap size. The spark discharge duration reduced with increased air flow velocity. To enhance the ignition of a lean or diluted fuel-air mixture under quiescent conditions, high spark discharge power or high spark discharge current were applied. With equivalent spark discharge energy, a larger flame kernel was achieved by the high-power spark whereas the impacts of spark discharge current level and discharge duration during the arc and glow phases were insignificant on the flame kernel growth. A transient high-current spark also generated a larger flame kernel, although with much higher spark energy as compared with that from a conventional spark. Under gas flow conditions, both the spark discharge current magnitude and discharge duration were critical for the flame kernel growth. It is postulated that this kernel growth was the result of a prolonged spark discharge duration effectively increasing the interaction volume between the plasma channel and the combustible gas engulfed by the mixture flow. Consequently, a longer spark discharge duration proved beneficial in establishing a larger flame kernel, probably because the spark discharge current was sufficient to support the flame kernel growth. Indeed, it was observed that boosted spark current was advantageous for the flame kernel growth, especially at higher flow velocities. However, the high-power spark and transient high-current spark proved to be less effective with higher flow velocities, probably because of the short discharge duration.