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Internal Combustion Engine


A heat engine is a machine that converts molecular energy (heat) to mechanical work.   (A heat pump does the opposite: converts work into heat energy.)   Heat engines require combustible fuels and therefore are often classified by external (EC) and internal combustion (IC).   In an external combustion engine, the fuel is ignited outside the enclosure where work is produced.   In an internal combustion engine, the fuel is ignited inside the enclosure where work is produced.   IC engines can be further classified as (1) intermitent, e.g., piston and Wankel engines, and (2) continuous, e.g., jet engines and gas turbines.

The IC engine combusts fuel and the oxygen supplied by air in a confined space called a combustion chamber, which is a hollow cylinder fitted with a piston.   The chemical reaction is exothermic that creates hot gases at high temperature and pressure, which expand against the surface of the piston to push it forward.   The piston drives a connecting rod, which turns a crankshaft that is connected to machines to produce useful mechanical.

IC reciprocating engines are distinguised by the type and number of working cycles.   2-stroke cycles complete the intake, compression, ignition & power, and exhaust functions in two strokes of the piston.   This is accomplished by using the space below the piston for air intake and compression while chamber above the piston to be used for the power and exhaust strokes.   This causes there to be a power stroke for every revolution of the crank and connecting shaft, instead of every second revolution as in a 4-stroke engine.   2-stroke engines provide high starting power.   4-stroke cycles use 1 stroke for each of the intake, compression, ignition & power, and exhaust functions.   When steam or air are used, additional cycles can be used to use the exhaust steam or air because they contain energy.

This discussion of IC engines is divided into the following topics:

Piston Inline Spark-ignition
(Gasoline) Engine

Piston Inline Compression-ignition (Diesel) Engine

Piston Rotary Engine

Pistonless Rotary (Wankel) Engine

Piston Radial Engine

These engines are further divided into those used in automobiles, trucks, boats, ships, locomotives, and airplanes.

Before 1790

In 1662 Robert Boyle publishes Boyle's Law which defines the relationship between volume and pressure in a gas.   This concept will be useful to later engine builders.

The first internal combustion engine begins with the use of slow-burning gunpowder.   Christian Huygens (1629-95) in 1673 wrote about his experiments with gunpowder.   He said that a 3,000 pound weight could be lifted at least 30 feet by burning 1 pound of gunpowder.   In the figure, a piston D in cylinder AB has ports E,E.   Attach to the ports are leather hoses F,F.   Exploding gunpowder at the bottom of the cylinder is turned to gas that pushes the piston to the top.   The ports are then uncoverd to exhaust the spent gas through the hoses.   Cylinder pressure then drops to atmospheric and then a vacuum is created as the gases cool.   Outside atmospheric pressure pushes the cylinder back to the bottom to lift weight G.   Providing a supply of fresh air (for the oxygen to burn the gunpowder) was a defect of this machine. Cummins 1-2


About 1791, John Barber patented a rudimentary, non-commercial coal gas turbine, the first use of this gas to power an engine.   Coal gas was obtained by distilling coal in retorts, compressed and mixed with air and ignited. Cummins 53

In 1794, Robert Street patents the first reciprocating engine burning a vapor of turpentine and air mixture.   There was no compression of the fuel-air mixture prior to ignition, a fundamental flaw of all early gas and oil engines.   His engine was used to pump water. Cummins 56


In 1801, Philippe Lebon (1769-1804) patents his coal gas engine.   It featured a double-acting piston, control of the air-gas ratio, pumping gas and air into the combustion chamber under pressure, using a closed combustion chamber, electric spark ignition, and mechanically activated valves.   His theoretical knowledge of an internal combustion engine was advanced, but he never built one. Cummins 58-59

In 1802 Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac develops his law which describes the relationship between a gas's pressure and temperature.   This principle will be used by inventors of engines.

Claude Niepce (d.1828) and his younger brother, Josph Niepce (1765-1833) in 1806 build a one-cylinder reciprocating engine using coal dust and lycopodium, a power from the spores of club moss as fuel.   Ignition was by flame.   Although experimental, it propelled a boat upstream on the Soane river. Cummins 64


In 1805, 1807 and 1813, the Swiss, Isaac de Rivaz, patented carriages with internal combustion engines.   The first fuel was marsh gas (methane), but he later used coal gas.   Ignition was by an electric spark from a battery.   The engine was reciprocating and non-compressing with the ignited gas pushing the piston upward, while it used the atmosphere to push the vertical piston down on its working stroke.   It also used a carburetor to mix the gas and air.   His 1813 carriage achieved a speed of 3 mph. Cummins 59-64


Rev. William Cecil (1792-1882) presented a paper for an atmospheric engine that used hydrogen as a fuel.   It had a vertical working cylinder and two horizontal expansion cylinders.   A charge of hydrogen and air was drawn into the vertical cylinder as its piston was carried downward by flywheel inertia.   No actual engine was built. Cummins 69

In 1824, French physicist Sadi Carnot established the thermodynamic theory of idealized heat engines.   This scientifically established the need for compression to increase the difference between the upper and lower working temperatures that will be used by IC engine inventors.

In 1824, Samuel Brown (?-1849?) built a full scale model of his patented pumping engine using coal gas as a fuel.   In 1826, an improved design ran a 4-wheeled vehicle on a grade of 11%.   He formed a company to produce engines for boats and barges, one of which was supposed to have made 8 mph upstream.   However, the company was unsuccessful.   His pumping engines were successful enough to raising water until 1832. Cummins 71-73

In 1826, the American, Samuel Morey (1762-1843), an American from Orford, NH, on the Connecticut River, produced the first I-C engine in the U.S.   Its advanced features included cam-actuated poppet valves and a base mounted crankshaft.   His gas engine was patented in 1826.   Morey used an innovative method of using gas: A container carrying liquid fuel, such as alcohol or turpentine, was heated to provide vapor to a carburetor as required by the engine.   The engine was said to have propelled a boat.   The engine was not a commercial success. Cummins 78-79


In 1833, Lemuel W. Wright patented his non-compression, double-acting engine with cylinder cooling.   It used coal gas as a fuel.   The engine was never built. Cummins 82-83

In 1838, William Barnett patented a compression, double-acting engine gas engine.   None were known to have been built. Cummins 85-87


In 1846, Stuart Perry (1814-90) from Newport, NY, invented an engine that used vaporized turpentine or rosin as fuel.   The engine was built, but never became commercial. Cummins 91-93


Dr. Alfred Drake of Philadelphia demonstrated working gas engines in 1843 and 1855.   They were double-acting and used coal gas as fuel.   Water cooled the cylinder.   No commercial engines were built. Cummins 93-94

By 1854, the team of Eugenio Barsanti (1821-64) and Felice Matteucci (1808-87) designed a free-piston atmospheric 2-cylinder engine, which was patented.   It had rack & pinion gearing to convert reciprocal to rotary motion.   In 1857, their 1-cylinder engine was used to power several machine tools.   Their 1857 patented engine incorporated several improvements.   It used electrica ignition provided by a Bunsen battery and a de la Rive multiplier, an early form of an electromagnetic coil.   Their engines used coal gas as fuel.   The engine was produced intermitently and sold for 20 years.   From this time forward, a practical IC engine was assured and inventors vied to build better engines.   The greatest need was for better efficiency. Cummins 94-100

Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir (1822-1900) invents the first practical stationary atmospheric (non-compression) IC engine fueled by gas.   It operates like a steam engine except that gas replaces steam.   The mixture of gas and air is fired by an electric spark obtained from a battery and an induction coil.   It running costs were greater than those of a steam engine, but it encouraged him and other inventors to seek improvements.   All these engines suffered from a lack of compression. Singer 157


Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir invents the world's first continuous production IC engine in 1862.   Probably fewer than 500 engines were produced, mostly in France, but also in Great Britain and United States.   It was non-compression, double-acting with power produced on each stroke.   It produced less than 3 horsepower with an efficiency of about 4% to 5%.   It featured spark plugs that used a charging battery.   It was expensive to run on coal gas and required much maintenance.   Production ceased in the late 1860s. Cummins 106-112

In 1862, the Frenchmen, Alphonse Beau de Rochas (1815-1891), obtains a patent in which are described the essential conditions that must be fulfilled in a practical gas engine to be efficient.   This patent protecst the 4-stroke cycle, which later became universal.   Although de Rochas demonstrated the principles of his invention, he left it to others to translate theory into practice while his patent lapsed. Singer 158

In 1862 and 1863, Nicolaus August Otto (1832-91) builds atmospheric gas engines that were not commercially successful. Cummins 134-138   In 1864, Eugen Langen (1833-93) visits Otto and becomes interested in his engine work.   He & Otto form a company called N. A. Otto & Cie.   Otto contributes his patents and workshop and Langen contributes 10,000 talers.   They begin to build and sell engines.

Pierre-Constant Hugon (1814-?) invented a non-compression, double-acting IC engine around 1865.   Its unique contribution was a Barnett trapped-flame ignition cock into the slide-valve. Cummins 112-116

In 1867, Otto and Langen build an improved atmospheric gas engine that wins a prize and fame at a fair.   More people invest in a new company called Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG to build Otto engines.   The company is a financial success. Cummins 145


In 1870, Alexis de Bisschop of France invented the most successful non-compression engine because it was reliable and cheap.   It was the only non-compression engine able to compete with the Otto & Langen compression engine.   It required coal gas, but no cooling water.   Its production ran for 25 years, several thousand having been made. Cummins 116-121

In 1872, Otto builds a model of a 4-stroke engine using gas. Cummins 163

In 1873, Louis Charles Errani and Richard Anders of Liege, Belgium, patented a single-acting engine that used a gasoline-like ("hydrocarbon liquid") fuel.   It never went beyond the experimental stage. Cummins 121-122   However, the idea of using fine particles of a liguid, gasoline, instead of gas was very important because gas made from coal, was not readily available or too costly.

In 1876, Otto's company, Deutz, enters production of its 4-stroke engine. Cummins 169

Karl Benz in 1879 receives a patent for production 2-stroke engine.



1892: Rudolf Diesel develops his Carnot heat engine type motor burning powdered coal dust.   He is awarded a patent the next year.

In 1896, Karl Benz patents his design of the first horizontallly-opposed ("boxer") engine.











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