For more than 150 years, spark plugs have powered internal combustion engines. Automakers are now one step closer to being able to replace this long-standing technology with laser igniters, which will enable cleaner, more efficient, and more economical vehicles.

If Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences has its way, a replacement of that sort may not be so far off (or strange). At this year’s Conference on Lasers and Electro Optics (CLEO: 2011), to be held in Baltimore May 1 – 6, researchers from Japan will describe the first multibeam  system small enough to screw into an engine’s cylinder head. Equally significant, the new  is made from ceramics, and could be produced inexpensively in large volumes, according to one of the presentation’s authors, Takunori Taira of Japan’s National Institutes of Natural Sciences.

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