Internal Combustion Engine: What is it and How it Works?

Internal combustion engines (ICEs), as the name suggests, are heat engines which produce power through the process of combustion right to do work inside the engine. This is a very common form of a heat engine which is typically used in vehicles, airplanes, trains, boats, and ships. An ICE is mostly preferred over an external combustion engine for vehicles because of its portable and durable nature.

What is an internal combustion engine?

An internal combustion engine is an engine which produces motive power through burning fuels like petrol, oil, or any other type with air inside the engine with the help of a piston or turbine. As a result, the hot gases which are produced inside the engine work inside and help in driving the piston or in doing some other work as they expand. In this type of engines, which are usually 2-stroke and 4-stroke piston engines with their variants, the combustion takes place intermittently.

The internal combustion engine is completely different from the external combustion engine based on the nature of combustion. While in an external combustion engine like a steam engine, the energy is delivered to a working fluid like air, pressurised water, hot water, or liquid sodium without the presence of any combustion product in any form, in an internal combustion engine, the hot gases are generated inside the engine in order to conduct work within. The fuel and air mixture is then emitted in the form of exhaust.

What is internal combustion and how it works?

While the basic combustion releases energy from the burning of fuel with the help of air, in the process of internal combustion, the entire combustion process takes place within the engine. After that, the engine converts the released energy to work. There is a moving piston and a fixed cylinder in the engine. When the combustion gas expands, it pushes the piston and as a result, the crankshaft starts rotating. Eventually, through a gear system in the powertrain, the engine of the vehicle is driven by the created motion.

Types of the internal combustion engine

Currently, there are two types of internal combustion engine which are the spark ignition gasoline engine and the compression ignition diesel engine. Both of these engines are four-stroke cycle engines in which for completing one cycle, four-piston strokes are required. In one cycle there are four distinct processes namely intake, compression, combustion and power stroke, and exhaust. Some internal combustion engines also come in two-stroke cycles which require only two-stroke piston movements for generating power. Such engines contain only two processes - compression and expansion to produce power.

How does an internal combustion engine work?

In an internal combustion engine, the combustion or burning of fuel occurs in a small space which is known as a combustion chamber. In this chamber, the fuel reacts with an oxidiser and the exothermic reaction of the mixture, in turn, produces high-temperature expandable gases and pressure.

Benefits of having an IC Engine in a Vehicle

An internal combustion engine has certain advantages which are as follows:

  • The advantage of an internal combustion machine is that the produced gas can be made to act directly for generating movement. For example, the gas can act on the pistons or rotors, or the entire engine thus enabling it to drive the vehicle.
  • These engines are mostly used in transportation and other situations where there is the need for a non-electric motor.
  • Internal combustion engine offers extremely high driveability as well as durability which makes it a smart choice for automobiles.
  • Compared to gas turbines, ICEs are more efficient at idle speed in terms of fuel consumption. Moreover, while gas turbines have delayed responses to various power requirement changes, ICEs respond quickly.
  • These engines are portable in nature as these are more convenient to use in vehicles over electricity.

Fuels used in an internal combustion engine

An internal combustion engine typically uses fossil fuels such as petroleum and natural gas. In the category of petroleum products, it uses gasoline, fuels oil, and diesel fuel. Moreover, these days there is an increased use of renewable fuels such as biodiesel, bioethanol, and methanol. While biodiesel is used for compression ignition engines, bioethanol or methanol can be used for spark engines. At times, hydrogen is also used as fuel for such engines.

What happens when the internal combustion engine fails?

Check engine light turning on, strange noises from the car, engine running roughly or inconsistently, smoke from the exhaust, etc. are some of the symptoms of an internal combustion engine damage. This kind of issues with your engine if not checked on time might lead to its failure. Hence, whenever you observe any such symptom consider a repair as otherwise, your vehicle might stop when you are on the go creating a lot of hassles. In case you can’t move your car due to the failure of the internal combustion engine, you should contact your insurer to make arrangements to move your vehicle as most of the insurance companies offer this facility under their bike insurance policies.

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