Porsche’s ex-CEO is trying to save the internal combustion engine with help from a new technology called microwave ignition.
You might remember microwaves from the small box that lives in your kitchen and reheats yesterday’s leftovers. It turns out that microwaves can do a lot more than just breathe new life into old pizza: it can also be used in cars.
Micro Wave Ignition (MWI) is a German startup that is developing a new way to ignite your cylinders. Instead of using dirty old spark plugs, they replace them with tiny microwave emitters. These emitters burn fuel at lower temperatures and could potentially reduce emissions by up to 80%. That’s like taking four out of every five cars off the road.
The huge efficiency gains come from the microwave emitter’s ability to ignite the fuel-air mixture in a cylinder from multiple points rather than a single spot where the spark is. This causes the fuel to burn faster and more completely, giving way more power and requiring far less fuel to actually complete one full engine cycle.
Microwave ignition could not only potentially improve a regular gas-burning car’s emissions but also improve its fuel economy by up to 30%. Best of all, MWI says that it could be used in existing engine architecture, meaning we might just replace all our spark plugs with tiny microwave emitters.
While electric cars are certainly the best option for clean travel, EVs are still very expensive so its difficult for the technology to be adopted en-masse for a huge environmental impact. But if every car could suddenly reduce its emissions by 80% just by replacing its spark plugs, that would be a huge win for the planet.
MWI has already got some big backers, including ex-Porsche CEO Wendelin Wiedeking, who owns 20% of the company. "I am convinced that MWI is a disruptive innovation with a huge market potential," Wiedeking said in a report from Automotive News.
The company is also looking for buyers, with Chinese and South Korean automakers already in talks.