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Diesel Engine: Today's Workhorse Engine

Diesel engines are more powerful and reliable and use fuel more efficiently. You see heavy-duty trucks, large buses, tractors, trains, and construction equipment being powered with diesel engine. Gone are the days when diesels are associated with being sluggish, loud, and smelly because much has been done to it to show greater improvement.

The Work of a Diesel Engine

A diesel engine converts the chemical energy in fuel into mechanical energy to move the piston up and down inside the enclosed space called the cylinder block. The pistons are attached to the crankshaft and changes the linear motion to rotary motion, which is the action needed to propel the wheels of the vehicle. Both a diesel engine and a gasoline engine releases energy in a succession of small combustions or explosions. This is the result of the chemical reaction between the fuel and the oxygen from the air. However, the two engines differ in the manner of explosion. Diesel engines starts the explosion on their own, while a gasoline engine starts the explosion with sparks coming from the spark plug.

Diesel Engine
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High Diesel Engine Efficiency

So what makes the diesel engine efficient? Air heats up once it is compressed. Fuel can ignite on its own if the air enclosed in the cylinders becomes hot enough by way of compression. And in order to achieve high temperature, there should be high air compression too. High compression leads to high engine efficiency because compressed air is able to concentrate the fuel burning oxygen. Since diesel fuel has high energy content, it reacts greatly to concentrated oxygen and thus, able to deliver more blow for each explosion. Diesel engines have the following advantages compared to other internal combustion engines:

  • Because of the diesel engine's high expansion ratio and high temperature of combustion, they are able to burn less amount of fuel.
  • Diesel engines easily adapt to damp environments, and they give high reliability because there is no high-tension electrical ignition system required.
  • Since there are no spark plug wires, coils, etc., they eliminate emission of radio frequency that may interfere with communication and navigation.
  • The life span is twice as long compared to petrol or gasoline engines because of the strength of the parts used and diesel fuel contains better lubrication properties.

The Four-Stroke Mechanism

Diesel engines were originally used to replace stationary steam engines. But despite the improvement on diesel engines in the past years, it still employs the concept of the four-stroke system. The first stroke is when air is drawn into the cylinder. This is possible as piston moves away from the intake valve to create space for the air. The upward swing movement of the piston compresses the air while at the same time heating it. The second stroke involves the injection of fuel under high pressure as the piston move towards the peak of its compression stroke causing fuel to ignite spontaneously upon contact with heated air.

The third stroke is when the hot combustion gases increase causing the downward movement of the piston or otherwise referred to as the power stroke. The last stroke is the return swing where the piston drives used up gases from the cylinder, and then the cycle starts all over again.

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