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MAHLE Turbulent Jet Ignition pre-chamber initiated combustion system supports high efficiency and near zero engine-out NOx in naturally aspirated PFI engine

Computer-generated image of the Turbulent Jet Igniter, designed to replace the spark plug in a modern spark ignition combustion system. Click to enlarge.

MAHLE Powertrain is developing an advanced spark-initiated pre-chamber combustion system—Turbulent Jet Ignition (TJI)—for otherwise standard spark-ignition (SI) engines found in current on-road vehicles. The TJI system, which replaces the spark plug, has supported peak indicated net thermal efficiency of 42% with near zero engine out NOx emissions in single cylinder experiments, according to a set of papers presented by MAHLE and Michigan State University at the SAE 2010 Powertrains Fuels & Lubricants meeting in San Diego.

These results were obtained utilizing the engine’s standard port fuel injection (PFI) fuel delivery system and a relatively low compression ratio of 10.4.

Efficiency gains are attributed to a combination of combustion improvements, reduced heat losses and the near elimination of dissociation associated with low combustion temperatures. Peak efficiency improvements equate to an 11% relative improvement when compared to conventional stoichiometric spark ignition combustion.

Results also indicate that jet ignition combustion has the potential to exceed 45% indicated net thermal efficiency (19% relative improvement) with a CR increase to ~14. The CR increase is made possible by the burn rate improvement associated with the distributed ignition system and the addition of side, wall guided DI. This would exceed the HCCI peak thermal efficiency of 43% in the same engine platform as there is no requirement to switch back to conventional spark ignition combustion at high load operation, which limits HCCI maximum CR for knock avoidance.

—Attard and Parsons, 2010-01-2196

MAHLE’s TJI research builds on previous work in the field that can trace its origins back to combustion initiation in pre-chamber cavities in the first part of the twentieth century with the 2-stroke Ricardo Dolphin engine. Since the Dolphin, many variants of the pre-chamber combustion system have been developed—including the Honda CVCC in the 1970s—primarily to increase the engine’s dilution tolerance and thermal efficiency. Pre-chamber combustion systems currently exist in large bore stationary engines used for power generation, but have failed to penetrate the vehicle market.

Jet ignition is one type of pre-chamber combustion system, in which hot gas jets produced by the pre-chamber system are introduced into the cylinder where they rapidly induce ignition of the main in-cylinder mixture.

A major advantage of jet ignition systems is that they enable very fast burn rates due to the ignition system producing multiple, distributed ignition sites, which consume the main charge rapidly and with minimal combustion variability. The locally distributed ignition sites allow for increased levels of dilution (lean burn/ EGR) when compared to conventional spark ignition combustion. Dilution levels are comparable to those reported in recent homogeneous charge compression ignition (HCCI) systems.

In addition, jet ignition systems have the potential for combustion phasing control and hence speed/load range benefits when compared to HCCI, without the need for SI-HCCI combustion mode switching. The faster burn rates also allow for a base compression ratio increase (1-2 points) when compared to spark ignition and when combined with diluted mixture combustion, provide increased engine efficiency.

—Toulson et al., SAE 2010-01-2263

Computer-generated image section view highlighting the Turbulent Jet Igniter centrally installed in the test engine’s four valve, pent roof combustion system. Click to enlarge.

MAHLE set out to make its jet ignition system more commercially feasible by applying off-the-shelf hardware and modern control systems to a novel pre-chamber design. Additionally, the system has been developed to operate on readily available commercial fuels (e.g. gasoline, propane, natural gas), overcoming the hurdle of earlier jet ignition systems of using hydrogen as the pre-chamber fuel. The system has been developed as a simple bolt-on addition for a modern engine design.

With TJI, the original PFI (homogenous) or DI (homogenous or stratified) fuel system supplying the main combustion chamber and majority of the fuel is carried over from the original OEM engine design. Besides the main chamber fueling, under typical operating conditions, a small amount of additional fuel is injected into the pre-chamber just before ignition in the region of the spark plug.

Timeline of TJI sequence events over one complete engine cycle. Click to enlarge.

By locating the spark plug in a small pre-chamber (approximately 2% of the clearance volume), heat losses can be minimized and HC and CO emissions can be controlled, MAHLE said. Pre-chamber fueling event is timed to end at approximately 50° before the spark discharge, thereby ensuring that a rich plentiful mixture can be contained in the pre-chamber. Use of the rich pre-chamber mixture leads to the production of radical species which have major benefits in chemically enhancing combustion.

Novel features of the TJI system include:

  • Very small pre-chamber volume (~2% of the clearance volume). This minimizes crevice volume, HC emissions, heat loss, surface-to-volume ratio effects and pre-chamber residual gas.

  • Pre-chamber connected to main chamber by one or more small orifices (~1.25 mm diameter). This promotes flame quenching and penetration into the main chamber. The reacting pre-chamber mixture initiates main chamber combustion in multiple locations through chemical, thermal and turbulent effects.

  • Separately fuelled pre-chamber (flush-mounted electronically controlled direct injector), allowing a rich mixture to be contained in the prechamber while the main chamber is heavily diluted (excess air and/or EGR). Injector location assists in scavenging the pre-chamber residuals and minimizing crevice volume.

  • Separately fueled main-chamber (electronically controlled PFI or DI). This allows homogeneous or stratified main chamber mixtures (HC/NOx emission control).

  • Spark discharge initiated pre-chamber combustion (flush-mounted electronically controlled spark plug), allowing simple combustion phasing control.

  • Research targets using readily available commercial fuels for both main and pre-chambers, enabling the use of existing refueling infrastructure.

The engine used in the experiments was derived from a current production level Ecotec LE5 GM engine. The addition of continuously variable camshaft phasers for both the intake and exhaust enabled variable valve timing. The spark ignition experiments were completed with regulated gasoline which was port fuel injected at production fuel pressures (4 bar). Jet ignition tests were completed with a mixture of gasoline and when required, a very small amount of propane when running excess air dilution.

In addition to the efficiency and NOx results, other findings were:

  • Turbulent Jet Ignition combustion is capable of matching the load operating range of conventional spark ignition combustion. This is achieved with equivalent peak BMEP and the ability to operate in an unthrottled mode down to 3.9 bar IMEPn with increasing dilution levels (excess air and high internal residuals). This minimum unthrottled load corresponds to an exhaust lambda of 2.25, which is a 50% increase in the dilution relative to the spark ignition lean limit of lambda 1.5.

  • The pre-chamber combustion system is quite robust and largely unaffected by changes such as variations in spark plug type, orientation, location and electrode gap for the spark plug, as long as combustion inside the pre-chamber can be initiated.

The MAHLE team also proposed a vehicle implementation strategy for Turbulent Jet Ignition combustion, which involves switching from ultra-lean burn to stoichiometric conditions in order to achieve engine load control and subsequent emission clean-up.

The ultra-high efficiencies achievable with Turbulent Jet Ignition and the simplicity of the mechanical hardware and control system offer unique opportunities of coupling this technology to hybrid/range-extender vehicle applications.

—Attard and Parsons, SAE 2010-01-2196


  • William P. Attard and Patrick Parsons (2010) A Normally Aspirated Spark Initiated Combustion System Capable of High Load, High Efficiency and Near Zero NOx Emissions in a Modern Vehicle Powertrain (SAE 2010-01-2196)

  • William P. Attard and Patrick Parsons (2010) Flame Kernel Development for a Spark Initiated Pre-Chamber Combustion System Capable of High Load, High Efficiency and Near Zero NOx Emissions (SAE 2010-01-2260)

  • Elisa Toulson, Harold J. Schock and William P. Attard (2010) A Review of Pre-Chamber Initiated Jet Ignition Combustion Systems (SAE 2010-01-2263)



Good potential for PHEVs genset?


This has potential for everything, IMO, and might well be a game changer. Other than additional cost, I don't see anything that would block widespread adoption of such a system.

No turbo on this system (from what I read) so cost really shouldn't be more than an engine such as the 2.0T audi engine or the upcoming I4 Ecotech (both of which feature DI, VVT, and Turbos).

I could see MAHLE using this system on their I3 engine and offer it to market as a range extender for PHEVs.


Why is everyone so hard up on PHEVs? Its like groundhog day on GCC. Its simply an electric car with an onboard generator. Until Batteries are cost effective and electric power generation switches over from coal to something cleaner, PHEV's will offer no CO2 advantage over conventional ICE's and will simply add $10k+ to the initial purchase price for a vehicle of equivalent performance. The only tangible benefit for the foreseeable future is reduced dependence on foreign oil which is a noble thing, but far from what is promised.


"PHEV's will offer no CO2 advantage over conventional ICE's"

Do the math! Even in countries with the highest CO2 per kWh electricity produced (eg ~600 g per kWh for the USA), an EV doing 5 miles per kWh (typical of today's units) will emit 75 g CO2 per km. An equivalent ICE vehicle could manage as low as 100 g CO2, but this figure is only for the fuel burned and does not include the emissions involved in the oil discovery, drilling, security, transport and refining, which all add up to a lot more CO2 than what is reported on the sticker.

Incidentally, has anyone seen this? An electric A2 has managed 372 miles on a single charge on German roads:


Incidentally, has anyone seen this? An electric A2 has managed 372 miles on a single charge on German roads:

in 7 hours wasnt on the autobahn


Quoth UA:

Until Batteries are cost effective and electric power generation switches over from coal to something cleaner, PHEV's will offer no CO2 advantage over conventional ICE's
Even at 600 g/kWH from coal and 0.25 kWh/mi, that's only 150 g/mi (less than 100 g/km). The figures from gas-fired CCGT plants will be less than half that, and the smart chargers being produced by GE can help manage zero-emission sources like wind.
and will simply add $10k+ to the initial purchase price for a vehicle of equivalent performance.
Given the instant torque and very high peak power of electrics, it's hard to match the performance without a much larger engine. See the White Zombie for an extreme example.
The only tangible benefit for the foreseeable future is reduced dependence on foreign oil
And low to zero emissions during electric operation.
And very low noise.
And the convenience of "refueling" at home.
And the potential for emergency power for the home.


Our electric energy is plentiful, extremely reliable and 100% non-polluting: (Hydro + Wind + Nuclear.

PHEVs are, at least for us, a common sense solution until such time as batteries improve enough for practical extended range BEVs. That would be something between (400 Wh/Kg and 600 Wh/Kg) at a much lower cost (between $150/Kwh and $300/Kwh). Improved PHEVs may be around for 10 to 20 years. PHEVs with small FC + onboard converter could be around for even longer.


Engine designers have been thinking about the spark plug/injector for a while now. If the fuel droplets are small enough, the heat vaporizes the fuel. If you can just replace the spark plug with a plug/injector, you are ready to go.

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