Ionisation of engine fuel/air mix

This was prompted by thisthread on vehicle antistatic chains.

I knew a talented engineer who did some interesting developmental work on the petrol (gasoline) internal combustion engine. He had a theory that he could make it more efficient by ionising the air intake, the theory being that the fuel and air molecules would find each other easier if they were oppositely charged.

So he fits an ioniser to the air intake, boosting the power of the engine briefly before it melted. Next!

He trys again, and again, and eventually comes up with something that works. He eventually managed to get the engine cool by introducing steam into the mix, and he also reduced the carb size to about 1/3 of the original. This produced a huge increase in power, as well as a huge increase in efficiency.

Alas his house was raided by agencies who shall remain nameless, and they confiscated his prototypes, tooling, books, paperwork, and computers. He was warned to cease any similar future developments he might be thinking of.

The question is: How viable is this? The engineering bit, not the conspiracy theory. It sounds pretty plausible to me, yet I don’t know why someone else hasn’t independently come up with something similar.

“Youre friend” is, at best, pullnig your leg, and at worst, a conspiracy theoririst nut. First of all, anything proclaiming to “ionize” anything else immediatly sets of my (and most other people round here’s) BS detecter. And using steam to cool an engine? Last I checked, steam was much hotter than regular, day-to-day air. 1/3 carb size? So his engine had better performance and more power with less oxygen? Yeah, that makes sense. Oh, wait, he “ionized” the air, and cooled it with steam. :rolleyes:

His house raided by government agents? Puh-leeze. Give us a little credit. How did this government agency know about it? I would think that if someone’s huose was raided w/out proable cause, and his property seized, we would hear something about it.

So, to answer your question: It’s BS. Not possible.

I should have made the mechanism clearer maybe. He ionised the air molecules in the intake - this is quite simple to do, you just need a high negative voltage (few thousand volts) and some sort of pointy emitter array for the air to flow over. Just like a room ioniser, but more powerful. All it’s doing is adding an extra electron to oxygen atoms* to give it a negative charge, the theory being that this ionised oxygen will be more inclined to stick to a neutrally charged fuel droplet.

There’s no reason why steam shouldn’t be used to cool an engine that would otherwise run stupidly hot. It’s sound thermodynamics; just because steam is ouchy hot to you and I doesn’t mean it isn’t a refreshing icy dip for an engine combustion chamber.The point is to get the fuel/air mix combined so efficiently that it runs very lean as a consequence. Leaner=hotter.

And if it’s so much more efficient, then you’re not stuffing in so much fuel, hence smaller carbs or injectors.

As for conspiracies, just because I’m paranoid &c &c. Let’s say I invented a magically cheap way of catalysing water into hydrogen and oxygen. Would I be very rich, or very dead, or both? Anyway, forget the conspiracy thing, pretend I didn’t mention it if it’s distracting from the technical question.

The only mention I’ve seen of anything similar on t’web was an engineering student who asked his tutor a similar question to my OP. His tutor ripped into his student quite ferociously, saying that the amount of energy needed by the ionising device would be ridiculously large, fool. I think Prof didn’t get the point - he was thinking in terms of dumping in extra energy straight into the combustion chamber and was measuring same in terms of electrical charge. He should have been thinking in terms of merely adding a small charge to a proportion of the oxygen molecules so that they are attracted to the fuel molecules with reckless abandon.
*Producing ozone as a byproduct - beware cheap ionisers, for they will permanently burn out your olfactory bulbs.

You just proved your premise impossible. Nothing can be attracted to a neutrally charged object (at least, not in the way you describe. Strong and weak forces, as well as gravity, attract things to it, but not electro-magnetic force.)

But, let’s say for the sake of argument, you had a typo and meant ‘positively charged fuel droplet.’ Well, I did as much searching as I could on gasoline and it’s magetic charge, and the best I could fine was this. Which states that gasoline cannot hold onto a charge after it leaves a magnetic field. Doesn’t really help us here, since we are interested in the charge it already has.

Although that site DOES mention an ionizer of sorts, but it’s nothing like the one you describe. I still stand by my original assertation that it’s all BS,

Oh, and as for this:

We have that. It’s called electricity. It just so happens that it takes more energy to power the electrodes to get the hydrogen then we would get from burning the hydrogen. And if you DID find a way to get a net energy output, you would be a very rich man. As soon as you discover it, all you would have to do is tell every news agency, science magazine, and newspaper in the country. Kinda hard for the most popular person on the planet to suddenly be abducted by “black helicopters.”

From post #1: “…the theory being that the fuel and air molecules would find each other easier if they were oppositely charged.”

So the ionizer charges the air, what charges the fuel?

From post #3: “…the theory being that this ionised oxygen will be more inclined to stick to a neutrally charged fuel droplet.”

Oh, so we’re not charging the fuel. And where did the idea that charged air will be attracted to uncharged fuel arise? It’s absurd on its face.

From post #1: “He eventually managed to get the engine cool by introducing steam into the mix, and he also reduced the carb size to about 1/3 of the original. This produced a huge increase in power, as well as a huge increase in efficiency.”

Introduced steam how? Produced steam how? Is protected against running out of steam how? (Just idle curiosity on my part – it sounds like an exceptionally unwieldy and cumbersome thing to incorporate into an automotive engine.)

Reduced carb size, eh? And how many years ago was this, that a carburetor was in the picture?

Huge increase in power, huge increase in efficiency, and guess what – none of the thousands of professional researchers and designers before or since ever explored the notion, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s not a shred of evidence of his results – but it’s gotta be true, right? I’m not in a position to explain the physics of why isn’t true, but I know psuedoscientific horsecrap when I see it, and I’m seeing it.

It’s the electrostatic forces that do the attraction. A neutrally charged conductor will attract both positive and negative ions, and the attraction is very strong. Anyone with a room ioniser can tell you how much (neutrally charged) dust they attract.

It would be more useful still if you could strip a few electrons from the fuel molecules to give them an overall positive charge, but this wasn’t the case in the prototype of the OP, and bouv’s link above on the poor charge retention of fuel might have implications on the feasibility of this. Doesn’t mean that ionising the oxygen won’t work as described in the OP though.

A couple of quick points first: First, you can cool a combustion process by putting water or any other heat sink in the mix. You’d really like to inject small water droplets (not steam) with the fuel so you get the heat of vaporization as part of your heat sink. But even if you just inject steam at some temp lower than the combustion temp, it will both inhibit combustion (if it prevents good mixing) and act as a heat sink. This lowers efficiency since you’d prefer all that heat to go into expansion in the combustion chamber, so if you have too much heat, you’re better off cutting your fuel/air volume, maybe by injecting an inert gas that would act as less of a heat sink than water but not interfere with your fuel/oxygen ratio.

Second, I think the conspiracy theory part is dramatic bunk. I went to grad school with people who studied combustion, made great strides combustion efficiency, and were never visited by the MIB. Of course, that’s not proof that the MIB aren’t out there hunting, but why haven’t they gone after the Toyota engineers who actually put a very efficient hybrid on the market?

Now, to address the actual question… I didn’t spend much time specifically studying combustion, but I shared lab space with people who did so I know the parameter space at least. Based on that, I don’t think ionization is going to help the mixing process much. You’re talking about a fairly weak attraction, meaning a fairly slow mixing (based on molecular charge only). Combustion happens incredibly fast. I’ve seen mixing improvements done using pulsed explosive injection and other processed designed to force the fuel/air mixture, and just making a basic scaling argument, I can’t see ion attraction being effective at the relatively large spatial distances and relatively short time scales involved.

The conspiracy stuff makes it tempting to dismiss this out of hand, but there maight be a nugget worth exploring.

I have no idea if this would work, but it is interesting, and it doesn’t seem like it would be teribly hard to test. It would be simple to switch the ionizer on and off for a “controlled” experiment.

First off, there is no need to charge the fuel droplets. Charged air will be attracted to uncharged “stuff” This is utilized in electrostatic paint application. (powder coating) The paint powder is charged by an ionizer, and is drawn to the grounded workpiece.

A charged comb will attract uncharged bits of paper, so this is easy to prove for yourself. In the world that is electrostatics, due to large surface area, paper is a poor insulator, and won’t hold charge well at all.

In the case of the fuel droplet, once it had collected an ion or two, it would itself then become charged. This would cause it to attract UNcharged molicules.

Further, having pre ionized air available in the combustion chamber would
facilitate spark ignition, and probably speed combustion even if the postulated
mechanism is wrong.

The bits about the engine melting/overheating makes no sense to me. The proposed mechanism would make the fuel quicker burning. This improves effiency, and allows more of the heat to convert to mechanical energy.

The only way I can see that being true is if combustion were so enhanced that
detonation resulted. That will tear up an engine, blow holes in the pistons, etc.
and might be discribed as “melting”. One cure for detonation is water injection …which kind of fits the story of the OP.
The thing is though, Modern gasoline engines do a fairly good job of burning all thier fuel. What they don’t do so well at is turning all that heat into torque at the crankshaft. There just isn’t much to be gained by making the fuel burn “better”. To make more power, you need to burn more fuel, and that requires more air,
and that doesn’t happen with a smaller carb throat, so this is where, conspiracy aside, the OP falls apart technically.

Maybe steam=finely atomized water? Injecting water into the combustion chamber is an effective way of lowering temperatures of heavily tuned motors. Aquamist and Cooling Mist are two companies that make water-injection systems.

Water injection has been around for awhile, with mixed results. On paper, it looks good. Water droplets hit the hot metal, and they expand to vapor, which takes up more than 1200 times the space of the water. Control, though, is very tricky. It doesn’t take much to make too much bang in the combustion chamber, and things break. It also doesn’t take much to interfere with the combustion of gasoline, and that doesn’t help anything.

Electrostatic intake systems have basic flaws that I’m not enough of an engineer to explain, but I understand them.

As for the nameless agencies swooping in to confiscate everything, well, that’s so silly it makes my teeth hurt.

Your teeth hurt because the transmitters in them are working overtime alerting the MIBs to your participation in this thread. Now be a good little drone and go find your copy of Catcher in the Rye.

Thanks Dog80, I’ll look out for those the next time I’m wandering round the pits at the drag strip. Those Top Fuellers have more pipes than all the Citroens I’ve ever owned, maybe one or more of them are a pleasant cooling mist.

Further clarification: This was told to me as an anecdote. The guy is genuine, he’s an engineer of rare fine talent, and he’s not really interested in money, he’d much rather have a quiet life. I’m an electronic engineer from birth who’s tooled around with the mechanics of cars for years, and I’ve done work and research on both ionisers and spark ignition systems, though never both at the same time.

Very true, but the fuel/air molecules are already pretty well mixed by the conventional process, all ionising the air does is give it a bit of a nudge in the right direction. It doesn’t have to do all the work. All a turbocharger does is puff the air in a bit harder, but it makes a difference where it matters.

Kevbo makes the valid point that modern engines are very efficient. I wasn’t privy to the original experiment, just the anecdote, but it was some years ago, probably 80s/early 90s. It was just 2 guys working on a shoestring in a garage with a modified standard engine. Which in those days was a noisy, inefficient beast made out of a type of hard cheese. But they did have a very serious heat problem initially, and it would have seized even with a modern engine

I’m not in any position to criticize the original experiment (ah, the joys of anecdotal evidence…), but I’ve dealt with similar “experimentalists”. I’ve seen garage mechanics claim incredible efficiency boosts for this or that modification, but they don’t put their test rig on a proper dyno. You can’t just put your car up on blocks (no load) and measure fuel consumption, and if they’re working on a shoestring in a typical mechanic’s garage, they may not have the gear to do proper load tests to get useful measures of fuel efficiency or power. And if you don’t properly load the engine, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it melt itself from high RPMs.

Again, not disparaging your friend. I’m a hopeful skeptic about this kind of thing. I want to believe it works, but they’ve presented no evidence that it does and the MIB story seems like a convenient fiction to avoid presenting data to back up their claims. If he’s serious, I can give him the addresses of about a dozen internationally-known combustions researchers who would be completely unintimidated by the MIBs (some would even welcome their shenanigans). He could send his designs anonymously to them and if they all suddenly disappear in the night, I’ll believe him without further ado (for whatever that’s worth).

uh…no. On so many, many levels.

Isn’t the “s” in “MIBs” redundant like ATM machine and grammatically incorrect?

Not if MIB is taken to mean man in black.

Leaner also equals less power, less fuel efficiency, more pollution, a greater potential for detonation, and greatly increased engine wear. Just out of curiosity, what’s the advantage?

First of all, gasoline isn’t a conductor. Second of all, this actually works with two insulators, not one or two conductors. Third, the reason it works is because the electrons in the neutral object will move away from a negatively charged object or toward a positively charged object, so that the part of the neutral object nearest the charged object is oppositely charged. This doesn’t work with individual molecules. Well it might with polar molecules like water, but heptane and octane in gasoline aren’t polar.

(I’m not absolutely certain all of the above is correct, but hopefully someone can confirm it.)

Running an engine lean does improve efficiency slightly. It costs some power, and causes the engine to run hot despite the combustion itself being cooler! As I understand it, this is because the lean combustion alters the heat transfer properties - rich combustion leaves an insulating unburnt gas layer at the cylinder walls. (I’d be interested if someone could clarify this!) It may be possible to design an engine to run lean, but at the moment there’s no good reason why you should.

One way running lean could give drastic improvements in efficiency is if you could control the power by altering the degree of lean-ness, rather than by throttling. (The improvements would come when you’re running the engine at low output, which is most of the time.) The difficulty is that you quickly end up below the flammability limit of a gasoline-air mix if you go too lean, so the degree of power variation achievable this way is limited. There are designs that get around this using high energy-input ignition such as shockwave ignition, but they are all experimental at the moment.

Now, if Fridgemagnet’s friend had found a way to control engine power by altering lean-ness rather than throttling, i.e. run incredibly lean at idle, and increase the fuel proportion in the mix all the way up to slightly rich for full power, then he’d be onto something. I have no idea if ionisation would allow this to be achieved. I’m a tad sceptical, but you never know!

Two things that don’t really ring true about the story though - one is the “huge increase in power”, which you most certainly wouldn’t get. The possible efficiency increases I have mentioned result from eliminating the pumping inefficiencies caused by throttling. They don’t apply when the engine is at full power, so there is no consequent power gain.

The other is the raid by agencies un-named. This is simply nonsense. There is no conspiracy to keep cars inefficient, on the contrary there is massive investment by manufacturers and academic research departments to improve efficiency. If there was such a conspiracy, hybrid cars wouldn’t exist!

And this is the key, correct, fundamental point which technologically illiterate people just don’t get. There are no “huge efficiency gains” to be had by “improving combustion” in an IC engine which already burns the fuel/air mixture at 92-98% efficiency. Every year it’s the same fucking things, and my Inbox is flooded with people believing in fuel-line magnets, nuclear ionizers, “super jets” that make carburettors 1000% more efficient than fuel injection, and innumerable quick-fix fuel additives.

I actually like seeing the reference to MIB. Every time I hear it, it means I no longer need waste my time listening at that point, and can move on to peer-reviewing the real technical papers people send me.

(empahasis added)

That’s a gross oversimplification and de-emphasis which is not correct at all. And it does not in any way support the unbolded point with respect to magnitude of effect. You can’t possibly compare the supercharging effect of a turbocharger which has profound, measureable, real-world impacts on efficiency, fuel economy, and power, with an effect, which even if it exists, is likely of miniscule value. That’s comparing apples and hippos.

Thanks for the insights guys; quite enlightening in places. You’ll forgive me my vagueness in the details, as mentioned I wasn’t privy to the experiment, just the anecdote. Kinda wish I hadn’t mentioned the raid in the OP though, it was distracting. They weren’t MIB spooks, they were a nameable concern, and I think it was a case of clashing parallel development rather than anything to do with oil supplies.

Una - didn’t mean to insult the wonderful turbocharger. My little 2 litre engine wouldn’t drag 1.5 tons uphill without assistance from its low pressure turbo and intercooler. On hot days when the air is thin my car gets a bit asthmatic, so it appreciates a good strong airflow.

One day I’ll tell the tale of how I ‘invented’* the capacitive ignition lead to boost spark energy, only to realise it was total bollocks.

*I’m not the first person to have come up with this idea, and there are even brands on the market you can buy. They are bollocks also. In light of this, I run some very excellent Magnecor leads, which are effective and respected.