An internal combustion engine (ICE) is a heat engine where the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer (usually air) in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful mechanical energy. The first commercially successful internal combustion engine was created by Étienne Lenoir around 1859 and the first modern internal combustion engine was created in 1864 by Siegfried Marcus.
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 six-stroke piston engine and 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. Firearms are also a form of internal combustion engine.
Internal combustion engines are 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 a boiler. ICEs are usually powered by energy-dense fuels such as gasoline or diesel, liquids derived from fossil fuels. While there are many stationary applications, most ICEs are used in mobile applications and are the dominant power supply for vehicles such as cars, aircraft, and boats.
Typically an ICE is fed with fossil fuels like natural gas or petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel fuel or fuel oil. There's a growing usage of renewable fuels like biodiesel for compression ignition engines and bioethanol for spark ignition engines. Hydrogen is sometimes used, and can be made from either fossil fuels or renewable energy.
At one time, the word engine (from Latin, via Old French, ingenium, "ability") meant any piece of machinery — a sense that persists in expressions such as siege engine. A "motor" (from Latin motor, "mover") is any machine that produces mechanical power. Traditionally, electric motors are not referred to as "Engines"; however, combustion engines are often referred to as "motors." (An electric engine refers to a locomotive operated by electricity.)
Reciprocating piston engines are by far the most common power source for land and water vehicles, including automobiles, motorcycles, ships and to a lesser extent, locomotives (some are electrical but most use Diesel engines). Wankel engines are used in some automobiles and motorcycles.
Where very high power-to-weight ratios are required, internal combustion engines appear in the form of combustion turbines. Powered aircraft typically uses an ICE which may be a reciprocating engine. Airplanes can instead use jet engines and helicopters can instead employ turboshafts; both of which are types of turbines. In addition to providing propulsion, airliners employ a separate ICE as an auxiliary power unit.
ICEs drive some of the large electric generators that power electrical grids. They are found in the form of combustion turbines in combined cycle power plants with a typical electrical output in the range of 100 MW to 1 GW. The high temperature exhaust is used to boil and superheat water to run a steam turbine. Thus, the efficiency is higher because more energy is extracted from the fuel than what could be extracted by the combustion turbine alone. In combined cycle power plants efficiencies in the range of 50 % to 60 % are typical. In a smaller scale Diesel generators are used for backup power and for providing electrical power to areas not connected to an electric grid.
Small engines (usually 2‐stroke gasoline engines) are a common power source for lawnmowers, string trimmers, chain saws, leafblowers, pressure washers, snowmobiles, jet skis, outboard motors, mopeds, and motorcycles.
StructureThe base of a reciprocating internal combustion engine is the engine block, which is typically made of cast iron or aluminium. The engine block contains the cylinders. In engines with more than one cylinder they are usually arranged either in 1 row (straight engine) or 2 rows (boxer engine or V engine); 3 rows are occasionally used (W engine) in contemporary engines, and other engine configurations are possible and have been used. Single cylinder engines are common for motorcycles and in small engines of machinery. Water-cooled engines contain passages in the engine block where cooling fluid circulates (the water jacket). Some small engines are air-cooled, and instead of having a water jacket the cylinder block has fins protruding away from it to cool by directly transferring heat to the air. The cylinder walls are usually finished by honing to obtain a cross hatch, which is better able to retain the oil. A too rough surface would quickly harm the engine by excessive wear on the piston.
The pistons are short cylindrical parts which seal one end of the cylinder from the high pressure of the compressed air and combustion products and slide continuously within it while the engine is in operation. The top wall of the piston is termed its crown and is typically flat or concave. Some two-stroke engines use pistons with a deflector head. Pistons are open at the bottom and hollow except for an integral reinforcement structure (the piston web). When an engine is working the gas pressure in the combustion chamber exerts a force on the piston crown which is transferred through its web to a gudgeon pin. Each piston has rings fitted around its circumference that mostly prevent the gases from leaking into the crankcase or the oil into the combustion chamber. A ventilation system drives the small amount of gas that escape past the pistons during normal operation (the blow-by gases) out of the crankcase so that it does not accumulate contaminating the oil and creating corrosion. In two-stroke gasoline engines the crankcase is part of the air–fuel path and due to the continuous flow of it they do not need a separate crankcase ventilation system.
The cylinder head is attached to the engine block by numerous bolts or studs. It has several functions. The cylinder head seals the cylinders on the side opposite to the pistons; it contains short ducts (the ports) for intake and exhaust and the associated intake valves that open to let the cylinder be filled with fresh air and exhaust valves that open to allow the combustion gases to escape. However, 2-stroke crankcase scavenged engines connect the gas ports directly to the cylinder wall without poppet valves; the piston controls their opening and occlusion instead. The cylinder head also holds the spark plug in the case of spark ignition engines and the injector for engines that use direct injection. All CI engines use fuel injection, usually direct injection but some engines instead use indirect injection. SI engines can use a carburetor or fuel injection as port injection or direct injection. Most SI engines have a single spark plug per cylinder but some have 2. A head gasket prevents the gas from leaking between the cylinder head and the engine block. The opening and closing of the valves is controlled by one or several camshafts and springs—or in some engines—a desmodromic mechanism that uses no springs. The camshaft may press directly the stem of the valve or may act upon a rocker arm, again, either directly or through a pushrod.
The crankcase is sealed at the bottom with a sump that collects the falling oil during normal operation to be cycled again. The cavity created between the cylinder block and the sump houses a crankshaft that converts the reciprocating motion of the pistons to rotational motion. The crankshaft is held in place relative to the engine block by main bearings, which allow it to rotate. Bulkheads in the crankcase form a half of every main bearing; the other half is a detachable cap. In some cases a single main bearing deck is used rather than several smaller caps. A connecting rod is connected to offset sections of the crankshaft (the crankpins) in one end and to the piston in the other end through the gudgeon pin and thus transfers the force and translates the reciprocating motion of the pistons to the circular motion of the crankshaft. The end of the connecting rod attached to the gudgeon pin is called its small end, and the other end, where it is connected to the crankshaft, the big end. The big end has a detachable half to allow assembly around the crankshaft. It is kept together to the connecting rod by removable bolts.
The cylinder head has attached an intake manifold and an exhaust manifold to the corresponding ports. The intake manifold connects to the air filter directly, or to a carburetor when one is present, which is then connected to the air filter. It distributes the air incoming from these devices to the individual cylinders. The exhaust manifold is the first component in the exhaust system. It collects the exhaust gases from the cylinders and drives it to the following component in the path. The exhaust system of an ICE may also include a catalytic converter and muffler. The final section in the path of the exhaust gases is the tailpipe.
The top dead center (TDC) of a piston is the position where it is nearest to the valves; bottom dead center (BDC) is the opposite position where it is furthest from them. A stroke is the movement of a piston from TDC to BDC or vice versa together with the associated process. While an engine is in operation the crankshaft rotates continuously at a nearly constant speed. In a 4-stroke ICE each piston experiences 2 strokes per crankshaft revolution in the following order. Starting the description at TDC, these are:
- Intake, induction or suction: The intake valves are open as a result of the cam lobe pressing down on the valve stem. The piston moves downward increasing the volume of the combustion chamber and allowing air to enter in the case of a CI engine or an air fuel mix in the case of SI engines that do not use direct injection. The air or air-fuel mixture is called the charge in any case.
- Compression: In this stroke, both valves are closed and the piston moves upward reducing the combustion chamber volume which reaches its minimum when the piston is at TDC. The piston performs work on the charge as it is being compressed; as a result its pressure, temperature and density increase; an approximation to this behavior is provided by the ideal gas law. Just before the piston reaches TDC, ignition begins. In the case of a SI engine, the spark plug receives a high voltage pulse that generates the spark which gives it its name and ignites the charge. In the case of a CI engine the fuel injector quickly injects fuel into the combustion chamber as a spray; the fuel ignites due to the high temperature.
- Power or working stroke: The pressure of the combustion gases pushes the piston downward, generating more work than it required to compress the charge. Complementary to the compression stroke, the combustion gases expand and as a result their temperature, pressure and density decreases. When the piston is near to BDC the exhaust valve opens. The combustion gases expand irreversibly due to the leftover pressure—in excess of back pressure, the gauge pressure on the exhaust port—; this is called the blowdown.
- Exhaust: The exhaust valve remains open while the piston moves upward expelling the combustion gases. For naturally aspirated engines a small part of the combustion gases may remain in the cylinder during normal operation because the piston does not close the combustion chamber completely; these gases dissolve in the next charge. At the end of this stroke, the exhaust valve closes, the intake valve opens, and the sequence repeats in the next cycle. The intake valve may open before the exhaust valve closes to allow better scavenging.
The defining characteristic of this kind of engine is that each piston completes a cycle every crankshaft revolution. The 4 process of intake, compression, power and exhaust take place in only 2 strokes so that it is not possible to dedicate a stroke exclusively for each of them. Starting at TDC the cycle consist of:
- Power: While the piston is descending the combustion gases perform work on it—as in a 4-stroke engine—. The same thermodynamical considerations about the expansion apply.
- Scavenging: Around 75° of crankshaft rotation before BDC the exhaust valve or port opens, and blowdown occurs. Shortly thereafter the intake valve or transfer port opens. The incoming charge displaces the remaining combustion gases to the exhaust system and a part of the charge may enter the exhaust system as well. The piston reaches BDC and reverses direction. After the piston has traveled a short distance upwards into the cylinder the exhaust valve or port closes; shortly the intake valve or transfer port closes as well.
- Compression: With both intake and exhaust closed the piston continues moving upwards compressing the charge and performing a work on it. As in the case of a 4-stroke engine, ignition starts just before the piston reaches TDC and the same consideration on the thermodynamics of the compression on the charge.
While a 4-stroke engine uses the piston as a positive displacement pump to accomplish scavenging taking 2 of the 4 strokes, a 2-stroke engine uses the last part of the power stroke and the first part of the compression stroke for combined intake and exhaust. The work required to displace the charge and exhaust gases comes from either the crankcase or a separate blower. For scavenging, expulsion of burned gas and entry of fresh mix, two main approaches are described: 'Loop scavenging', and 'Uniflow scavenging', SAE news published in the 2010s that 'Loop Scavenging' is better under any circumstance than 'Uniflow Scavenging'.
Some SI engines are crankcase scavenged and do not use poppet valves. Instead the crankcase and the part of the cylinder below the piston is used as a pump. The intake port is connected to the crankcase through a reed valve or a rotary disk valve driven by the engine. For each cylinder a transfer port connects in one end to the crankcase and in the other end to the cylinder wall. The exhaust port is connected directly to the cylinder wall. The transfer and exhaust port are opened and closed by the piston. The reed valve opens when the crankcase pressure is slightly below intake pressure, to let it be filled with a new charge; this happens when the piston is moving upwards. When the piston is moving downwards the pressure in the crankcase increases and the reed valve closes promptly, then the charge in the crankcase is compressed. When the piston is moving upwards, it uncovers the exhaust port and the transfer port and the higher pressure of the charge in the crankcase makes it enter the cylinder through the transfer port, blowing the exhaust gases. Lubrication is accomplished by adding 2-stroke oil to the fuel in small ratios. Petroil refers to the mix of gasoline with the aforesaid oil. This kind of 2-stroke engines has a lower efficiency than comparable 4-strokes engines and release a more polluting exhaust gases for the following conditions:
- They use a total-loss lubrication system: all the lubricating oil is eventually burned along with the fuel.
- There are conflicting requirements for scavenging: On one side, enough fresh charge needs to be introduced in each cycle to displace almost all the combustion gases but introducing too much of it means that a part of it gets in the exhaust.
- They must use the transfer port(s) as a carefully designed and placed nozzle so that a gas current is created in a way that it sweeps the whole cylinder before reaching the exhaust port so as to expel the combustion gases, but minimize the amount of charge exhausted. 4-stroke engines have the benefit of forcibly expelling almost all of the combustion gases because during exhaust the combustion chamber is reduced to its minimum volume. In crankcase scavenged 2-stroke engines, exhaust and intake are performed mostly simultaneously and with the combustion chamber at its maximum volume.
The main advantage of 2-stroke engines of this type is mechanical simplicity and a higher power-to-weight ratio than their 4-stroke counterparts. Despite having twice as many power strokes per cycle, less than twice the power of a comparable 4-stroke engine is attainable in practice.
Using a separate blower avoids many of the shortcomings of crankcase scavenging, at the expense of increased complexity which means a higher cost and an increase in maintenance requirement. An engine of this type uses ports or valves for intake and valves for exhaust, except opposed piston engines, which may also use ports for exhaust. The blower is usually of the Roots-type but other types have been used too. This design is commonplace in CI engines, and has been occasionally used in SI engines.
CI engines that use a blower typically use uniflow scavenging. In this design the cylinder wall contains several intake ports placed uniformly spaced along the circumference just above the position that the piston crown reaches when at BDC. An exhaust valve or several like that of 4-stroke engines is used. The final part of the intake manifold is an air sleeve which feeds the intake ports. The intake ports are placed at an horizontal angle to the cylinder wall (I.e: they are in plane of the piston crown) to give a swirl to the incoming charge to improve combustion. The largest reciprocating IC are low speed CI engines of this type; they are used for marine propulsion (see marine diesel engine) or electric power generation and achieve the highest thermal efficiencies among internal combustion engines of any kind. Some Diesel-electric locomotive engines operate on the 2-stroke cycle. The most powerful of them have a brake power of around 4.5 MW or 6,000 HP. The EMD SD90MAC class of locomotives use a 2-stroke engine. The comparable class GE AC6000CW whose prime mover has almost the same brake power uses a 4-stroke engine.
An example of this type of engine is the Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C turbocharged 2-stroke Diesel, used in large container ships. It is the most efficient and powerful internal combustion engine in the world with a thermal efficiency over 50 %. For comparison, the most efficient small four-stroke engines are around 43 % thermally-efficient (SAE 900648); size is an advantage for efficiency due to the increase in the ratio of volume to surface area.
See the external links for a in-cylinder combustion video in a 2-stroke, optically accessible motorcycle engine..