Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today, internal combustion engines in cars, trucks, motorcycles, aircraft, construction machinery and many others, most commonly use a four-stroke cycle. The four strokes refer to intake, compression, combustion (power), and exhaust strokes that occur during two crankshaft rotations per working cycle of the gasoline engine and diesel engine.

The cycle begins at Top Dead Center (TDC), when the piston is farthest away from the axis of the crankshaft. A stroke refers to the full travel of the piston from Top Dead Center (TDC) to Bottom Dead Center (BDC). (See Dead centre.)

1. INTAKE stroke: On the intake or induction stroke of the piston , the piston descends from the top of the cylinder to the bottom of the cylinder, reducing the pressure inside the cylinder. A mixture of fuel and air is forced by atmospheric (or greater) pressure into the cylinder through the intake port. The intake valve(s) then close.

2. COMPRESSION stroke: With both intake and exhaust valves closed, the piston returns to the top of the cylinder compressing the fuel-air mixture. This is known as the compression stroke.

3. POWER stroke.: While the piston is close to Top Dead Center, the compressed air–fuel mixture is ignited, usually by a spark plug (for a gasoline or Otto cycle engine) or by the heat and pressure of compression (for a diesel cycle or compression ignition engine). The resulting massive pressure from the combustion of the compressed fuel-air mixture drives the piston back down toward bottom dead center with tremendous force. This is known as the power stroke, which is the main source of the engine's torque and power.

4. EXHAUST stroke.: During the exhaust stroke, the piston once again returns to top dead center while the exhaust valve is open. This action evacuates the products of combustion from the cylinder by pushing the spent fuel-air mixture through the exhaust valve(s).


Gasoline (petrol) Engines

Modern gasoline engines have an average efficiency of about 18% to 20% when used to power a car. In other words, of the total heat energy of gasoline, about 80% is ejected as heat from the exhaust, as mechanical sound energy, or consumed by the motor (friction, air turbulence, heat through the cylinder walls or cylinder head, and work used to turn engine equipment and appliances such as water and oil pumps and electrical generator), and only about 20% of the fuel energy moves the vehicle. At idle the efficiency is zero since no usable work is being drawn from the engine. At slow speed (i.e. low power output) the efficiency is much lower than average, due to a larger percentage of the available heat being absorbed by the metal parts of the engine, instead of being used to perform useful work. Gasoline engines also suffer efficiency losses at low throttle from the high turbulence and head loss when the incoming air must fight its way around the nearly-closed throttle; diesel engines do not suffer this loss because the incoming air is not throttled. Engine efficiency improves considerably at open road speeds; it peaks in most applications at around 75% of rated engine power, which is also the range of greatest engine torque (e.g. in the 2007 Ford Focus, maximum torque of 133 foot-pounds is obtained at 4,500 RPM, and maximum engine power of 136 brake horsepower (101 kW) is obtained at 6,000 RPM).

Diesel Engines

Engines using the Diesel cycle are usually more efficient, although the Diesel cycle itself is less efficient at equal compression ratios. Since diesel engines use much higher compression ratios (the heat of compression is used to ignite the slow-burning diesel fuel), that higher ratio more than compensates for the lower intrinsic cycle efficiency, and allows the diesel engine to be more efficient. The most efficient type, direct injection Diesels, are able to reach an efficiency of about 40% in the engine speed range of idle to about 1,800 rpm. Beyond this speed, efficiency begins to decline due to air pumping losses within the engine.

Compression Ratio

The efficiency depends on several factors, one of which is the compression ratio. Most gasoline engines have a ratio of 10:1 (premium fuel) or 9:1 (regular fuel), with some high performance engines reaching a ratio of 12:1 with special fuels. The greater the ratio the more efficient is the machine. Higher ratio engines need gasoline with higher octane value, which inhibits the fuel's tendency to burn nearly instantaneously (known as detonation or knock) at high compression/high heat conditions.

At lower power outputs, the effective compression ratio is less than when the engine is operating at full power, due to the simple fact that the incoming fuel-air mixture is being restricted. Thus the effective engine efficiency will be less than when the engine is producing its maximum rated power. One solution to this fact is to shift the load in a multi-cylinder engine from some of the cylinders (by deactivating them) to the remaining cylinders so that they may operate under higher individual loads and with correspondingly higher effective compression ratios. This technique is known as variable displacement.

Diesel engines have a compression ratio between 14:1 to 25:1. In this case the general rule does not apply because Diesels with compression ratios over 20:1 are indirect injection diesels. These use a prechamber to make possible high RPM operation as is required in automobiles and light trucks. The thermal and gas dynamic losses from the prechamber result in direct injection Diesels (despite their lower compression ratio) being more efficient. An engine has many parts that produce friction. Some of these friction forces remain constant (as long as applied load is constant); some of these friction losses increase as engine speed increases, such as piston side forces and connecting bearing forces (due to increased inertia forces from the oscillating piston). A few friction forces decrease at higher speed, such as the friction force on the cam's lobes used to operate the inlet and outlet valves (the valves' inertia at high speed tends to pull the cam follower away from the cam lobe). Along with friction forces, an operating engine has pumping losses, which is the work required to move air into and out of the cylinders. This pumping loss is minimal at low speed, but increases approximately as the square of the speed, until at rated power an engine is using about 20% of total power production to overcome friction and pumping losses.

A gasoline motor burns a mix of gasoline and air, consisting of a range of about twelve to eighteen parts (by weight) of air to one part of fuel (by weight). A mixture with a 14.7:1 air/fuel ratio is said to be stoichiometric, that is when burned, 100% of the fuel and the oxygen are consumed. Mixtures with slightly less fuel, called lean burn are more efficient, whilst slightly rich mixtures, with lower air fuel ratios produce more power at the expense of higher fuel consumption. The combustion is a reaction which uses the air's oxygen content to combine with the fuel, which is a mixture of several hydrocarbons, resulting in water vapor, carbon dioxide, and sometimes carbon monoxide and partially-burned hydrocarbons. In addition, at high temperatures the air's oxygen tends to combine with the air's nitrogen, forming oxides of nitrogen (usually referred to as NOx, since the number of oxygen atoms in the compound can vary, thus the "X" subscript). This mixture, along with the unused nitrogen and other trace atmospheric elements, is what we see in the exhaust.


The air is approximately 21% oxygen; if there is not enough oxygen for proper combustion, the fuel will not burn completely and will produce less energy. An excessive rich air fuel ratio will cause an increase of pollutants from the engine. The fuel burns in three stages. First, the hydrogen burns to form water vapour. Second, the carbon burns to carbon monoxide. Lastly, the carbon monoxide burns to carbon dioxide. This last stage produces most of the power of the engine. If all of the oxygen is consumed before this stage because there is too much fuel, engine's power is reduced.

There are a few exceptions where introducing fuel upstream of the combustion chamber can cool down the incoming air through evaporative cooling. The extra fuel that is not burned in the combustion chamber cools down the intake air resulting in more power. With direct injection this effect is not as dramatic but it can cool down the combustion chamber enough to reduce certain pollutants such as nitrous oxides, while raising others such as partially-decomposed hydrocarbons.

The air-fuel mix is drawn into an engine because downward motion of the pistons induces a partial vacuum. A compressor can be used to force a larger charge into the cylinder to produce more power. In practice this is achieved either by belt driven supercharging or exhaust driven turbocharging. Also, two-stroke diesel engines have forced induction, where a supercharger moves air into the engine or the crankcase so that the cylinder will be filled with air as soon as the inlet port is uncovered.

There are other methods to increase the amount of oxygen available inside the engine; one of them, is to inject nitrous oxide, (nitrous) to the mixture, and some special engines use nitromethane, a fuel that provides the oxygen itself it needs to burn. Because of that, the mixture could be 1 part of fuel and 3 parts of air; thus, it is possible to burn more fuel inside the engine, and get higher power outputs.


Piston steam engines are relatively inefficient (about 8% overall efficiency) which is why there are very few steam locomotives in commercial use. Large output steam turbines equal or exceed the efficiency of the Diesel, which is one reason they are used for electric utility generating plants (the other reason is the greatly reduced maintenance requirement).

Stirling engines

The Stirling cycle engine has the highest efficiency of any thermal engine but it is more expensive to make and is not competitive with other types for normal commercial use.

Gas turbine

The gas turbine is most efficient at maximum power output. Efficiency declines steadily with reduced power output and is very poor in the low power range. This is one reason, among several, why the gas turbine is not used for automobiles and trucks where much of the operating cycle is at idle and low to intermediate speeds. General Motors at one time tried to make a gas turbine for an automobile and gave up. This is also why gas turbines can be used for peak power electric plants. In this application they are only run at full power where they are efficient or shut down when not needed.


The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel (normally a fossil fuel) occurs with an oxidizer (usually air) in a combustion chamber. In an internal combustion engine the expansion of the high-temperature and -pressure gases produced by combustion applies direct force to some component of the engine, such as pistons, turbine blades, or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, generating useful mechanical energy.

The term internal combustion engine usually refers to an engine in which combustion is intermittent, such as the more familiar four-stroke and two-stroke piston engines, along with variants, such as the Wankel rotary engine. A second class of internal combustion engines use continuous combustion: gas turbines, jet engines and most rocket engines, each of which are internal combustion engines on the same principle as previously described.

The internal combustion engine (or ICE) is quite different from external combustion engines, such as steam or Stirling engines, in which the energy is delivered to a working fluid not consisting of, mixed with, or contaminated by combustion products. Working fluids can be air, hot water, pressurized water or even liquid sodium, heated in some kind of boiler.

A large number of different designs for ICEs have been developed and built, with a variety of different strengths and weaknesses. Powered by an energy-dense fuel (which is very frequently petrol, a liquid derived from fossil fuels), the ICE delivers an excellent power-to-weight ratio with few disadvantages. While there have been and still are many stationary applications, the real strength of internal combustion engines is in mobile applications and they dominate as a power supply for cars, aircraft, and boats, from the smallest to the largest. Only for hand-held power tools do they share part of the market with battery powered devices.


Internal combustion engines are most commonly used for mobile propulsion in vehicles and portable machinery. In mobile equipment, internal combustion is advantageous since it can provide high power-to-weight ratios together with excellent fuel energy density. Generally using fossil fuel (mainly petroleum), these engines have appeared in transport in almost all vehicles (automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, boats, and in a wide variety of aircraft and locomotives).

Where very high power-to-weight ratios are required, internal combustion engines appear in the form of gas turbines. These applications include jet aircraft, helicopters, large ships and electric generators.