Rudolph Diesel

Rudolph Diesel was born in Paris of Bavarian parents in 1858. As a budding mechanical engineer at the Technical University in Munich, he became fascinated by the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the maximum efficiency of a Carnot process and attempted to improve the existing thermal engines of the day on the basis of purely theoretical considerations. His first prototype engine was built in 1893, a year after he applied for his initial patent, but it wasn't until the third prototype was built in 1897 that theory was put into practice with the first 'Diesel' engine.

Diesel Cycle Operation

The Diesel cycle is the cycle used in the Diesel (compression-ignition) engine. In this cycle the heat is transferred to the working fluid at constant pressure. The process corresponds to the injection and burning of the fuel in the actual engine. The cycle in an internal combustion engine consists of induction, compression, power and exhaust strokes.

Run Diesel Cycle Animation

Induction Stroke

The induction stroke in a Diesel engine is used to draw in a new volume of charge air into the cylinder. As the power generated in an engine is dependent on the quantity of fuel burnt during combustion and that in turn is determined by the volume of air (oxygen) present, most diesel engines use turbochargers to force air into the cylinder during the induction stroke.

From a theoretical perspective, each of the strokes in the cycle complete at Top Dead Centre (TDC) or Bottom Dead Centre (BDC), but in practicality, in order to overcome mechanical valve delays and the inertia of the new charge air, and to take advantage of the momentum of the exhaust gases, each of the strokes invariably begin and end outside the 0, 180, 360, 540 and 720 (0) degree crank positions (see valve timing chart).

Compression Stroke

The compression stroke begins as the inlet valve closes and the piston is driven upwards in the cylinder bore by the momentum of the crankshaft and flywheel.

The purpose of the compression stroke in a Diesel engine is to raise the temperature of the charge air to the point where fuel injected into the cylinder spontaneously ignites. In this cycle, the separation of fuel from the charge air eliminates problems with auto-ignition and therefore allows Diesel engines to operate at much higher compression ratios than those currently in production with the Otto Cycle.

Compression Ignition

Compression ignition takes place when the fuel from the high pressure fuel injector spontaneously ignites in the cylinder.

In the theoretical cycle, fuel is injected at TDC, but as there is a finite time for the fuel to ignite (ignition lag) in practical engines, fuel is injected into the cylinder before the piston reaches TDC to ensure that maximum power can be achieved. This is synonymous with automatic spark ignition advance used in Otto cycle engines.

Power Stroke

The power stroke begins as the injected fuel spontaneously ignites with the air in the cylinder. As the rapidly burning mixture attempts to expand within the cylinder walls, it generates a high pressure which forces the piston down the cylinder bore. The linear motion of the piston is converted into rotary motion through the crankshaft. The rotational energy is imparted as momentum to the flywheel which not only provides power for the end use, but also overcomes the work of compression and mechanical losses incurred in the cycle (valve opening and closing, alternator, fuel injector pump, water pump, etc.).

Exhaust Stroke

The exhaust stroke is as critical to the smooth and efficient operation of the engine as that of induction. As the name suggests, it's the stroke during which the gases formed during combustion are ejected from the cylinder. This needs to be as complete a process as possible, as any remaining gases displace an equivalent volume of the new charge air and leads to a reduction in the maximum possible power.

Exhaust and Inlet Valve Overlap

Exhaust and inlet valve overlap is the transition between the exhaust and inlet strokes and is a practical necessity for the efficient running of any internal combustion engine. Given the constraints imposed by the operation of mechanical valves and the inertia of the air in the inlet manifold, it is necessary to begin opening the inlet valve before the piston reaches Top Dead Centre (TDC) on the exhaust stroke.

Likewise, in order to effectively remove all of the combustion gases, the exhaust valve remains open until after TDC. Thus, there is a point in each full cycle when both exhaust and inlet valves are open. The number of degrees over which this occurs and the proportional split across TDC is very much dependent on the engine design and the speed at which it operates.