Short spark plug life, resulting in increased engine downtime and operating costs, is the primary factor limiting the power density and thermal efficiency in lean burn natural gas engines. Fundamentally, as engine power density increases, spark plug life decreases. Common approaches to increasing spark plug life include use of high melting temperature electrode materials and increased electrode surface area. However, future targets for engine efficiency and power density require more effective system solutions. In order to achieve these system solutions, work has been focused on developing an empirically derived electrode erosion model. This model quantifies spark plug life as a function of spark discharge characteristics, spark plug electrode design, and flow fields in the vicinity of the spark plug gap for different engine power densities. Furthermore, quenching effects resulting from large surface electrodes and smaller spark gaps have been included to verify ignitability for given in-cylinder charge density and air/fuel ratio conditions. A good agreement between experimental data and model predictions has been demonstrated. Finally, a solution for extending spark plug life in high efficiency, high power density, natural gas engines has been proposed. This solution combines high spark power with a spark plug design consisting of small electrode gap, large electrode surface, and with enhanced flow fields at the electrode gap.

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