How does an internal combustion engine work?
Combustion, also known as burning, is the basic chemical process of releasing energy from a fuel and air mixture. In an internal combustion engine (ICE), the ignition and combustion of the fuel occurs within the engine itself. The engine then partially converts the energy from the combustion to work. The engine consists of a fixed cylinder and a moving piston. The expanding combustion gases push the piston, which in turn rotates the crankshaft. Ultimately, through a system of gears in the powertrain, this motion drives the vehicle’s wheels.
There are two kinds of internal combustion engines currently in production: the spark ignition gasoline engine and the compression ignition diesel engine. Most of these are four-stroke cycle engines, meaning four piston strokes are needed to complete a cycle. The cycle includes four distinct processes: intake, compression, combustion and power stroke, and exhaust.
Spark ignition gasoline and compression ignition diesel engines differ in how they supply and ignite the fuel. In a spark ignition engine, the fuel is mixed with air and then inducted into the cylinder during the intake process. After the piston compresses the fuel-air mixture, the spark ignites it, causing combustion.
The expansion of the combustion gases pushes the piston during the power stroke. In a diesel engine, only air is inducted into the engine and then compressed. Diesel engines then spray the fuel into the hot compressed air at a suitable, measured rate, causing it to ignite.