Air Force laser experiment

Air Force laser experiment

The Turbonator. Magic spark plugs. Fuel additives. Lasers. Wait, lasers? Believe it or not, in addition to the gimmicky infomercial gadgets claiming to turn a wheezing four-pot into a fire-breathing V-8--while delivering 100 mpg--lasers and nanoparticles are now being touted by researches at the University of Florida as a possible next-gen solution to fuel economy and emissions. The best part? We don't have to give up our gasoline.

So, how, exactly, does one take low-energy lasers, nanoparticles and fuel and come up with a lean, green machine? The answer is suprisingly simple, if you don't dig too deep. Tiny particles called "functionalized fullerenes" help fuel to burn at lower ignition energies, meaning a lower-power ignition source can be used. That's where the low-power laser comes in. Not much more powerful than a typical laser pointer, the laser sets off the fullerenes, which then ignite the fuel--but because they're nanoparticles and distributed throughout the fuel, they help to make for more complete combustion, improving the overall thermal efficiency of the engine. The sum total of the equation? Less fuel for the same power output.

Of course, any speed-obsessed gearhead with a nerdy streak will immediately wonder if there's potential to say "screw the fuel, I want more power!" and yes, it seems that that, too, could be one application for the technology. The evil genius checklist just grew by one: sharks with lasers--check, cars with lasers--working on it.

Oddly, the experiments that led to the use of low-power lasers and functionalized fullerenes grew out of cancer research, where scientists were experimenting with ways to eliminate cancer cells without harming surrounding tissue.

As it sits, the technology is still experimental, and applications are purely hypothetical, but the fundamental science appears to be sound, and we all know the gasoline industry, gearheads (gullible or otherwise) and the general public are no strangers to fuel additives, so we're just a few years and a hundred million laser pointers from saving the planet. Or something like that.

[EurekAlert! via Gas2.0]