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The steam engine definitely played a decisive role in the rapidly progressing mechanization and industrialization of the 18th and 19th centuries. Compared with water wheels and windmills, it delivered enormous amounts of driving energy for machines which were becoming more and more numerous and increasingly varied. In addition, the steam engine was independent of natural phenomena such as lack of water or calm conditions. However, it was soon clear that it was not exactly sparing with regard to available energy reserves, i.e. the coal reserve itself.

Rudolf Diesel became acquainted with this fact during his studies at what is today the Technical University of Munich. In a lecture by Carl Linde on thermodynamics given in 1878, he heard about the poor efficiency of the steam engine and about a theory by the French physicist SADI Carnot, whose cyclic process promised considerably higher energy efficiency. After that, Diesel made a note in his lecture script to study whether it is not possible to realize the Carnot cycle. The result of his studies was to be the

diesel engine, which still remains today the thermal engine with the highest efficiency.


After his studies, Diesel returned to Paris, the city where he was born. For about a decade he managed the French branch of the "Gesellschaft fUr Lindes Eismaschinen" (Linde Ice Machine Company), before taking over the management of Linde's technical office in Berlin in 1890. Permanently he was obsessed by his idea of creating an efficient thermal engine. By 1892, this idea had progressed so far that he filed a hand-written application titled "A new, efficient thermal engine" with the Imperial Patent Office on 27th February 1892. By the 23rd February 1893 he was granted the Patent No. 67207 "Working method and design for combustion engines". Diesel was aware that the practical realisation of his patent required substantial investment and therefore sought support from major machine manufacturers he had encountered in the "Maschinenfabrik Augsburg", as well as with Friedrich Krupp in Essen. Contracts with these companies guaranteed Diesel the production of a test engine and an appropriate salary. Thus, he could start up his own business and dedicate himself entirely to the realization of his engine. As early as July 1893 a test engine was completed in Augsburg, which, however, did not work and could not run on its own, as Diesel himself admitted. The period of experimenting was to last until 17th February 1897, the day on which the official approval tests of the engine took place . With an overall weight of 4.5 t and a power of 20 hp this first diesel engine

suitable for practical use" offered an efficiency of 26 %. Thus, it was considerably superior to the steam engines, which then could only boast an efficiency of 12%.


When the diesel engine became suitable for practical use, road vehicles driven by light, fast-running Otto engines had already been on the road. However, the diesel engine was not yet suitable as a means for vehicle propulsion. The reason lay in its working principle, which requires a short explanation. While in the Otto engine the ignition temperature of the air-fuel mixture is reached by an externally supplied ignition, e.g. an electric spark, the diesel engine ignites on its own. For this purpose, the air in the cylinder is compressed and heated to such an extent that the fuel, introduced shortly before the end of the compression, ignites in the hot air. This fundamental difference in the Otto engine resulted in large dimensions and a greater weight (one hp "weighed" up to 250 kg). This only allowed its stationary use for the time being. In December 1924, the first diesel driven lorry with direct injection was presented to the public by MAN at the Berlin Motor Fair.

In the early days, exclusively stationary diesel engines were built. In 1903 and from 1910 onward both small and larger seagoing ships equipped with diesel engines began to appear. Another focus was on the propulsion of submarines. Here, dimensions and weight did not play a decisive role. The following question must now be asked: Why was the diesel engine, with its new working principle, initially considerably larger and heavier than an Otto engine producing exactly the same power? One reason is the higher pressures that occur in the diesel engine and which can only be controlled by a sturdier design. However, the main reason lies in the introduction of the fuel into the cylinder under high pressure. The only feasible method was to induce fuel using pressurized' air, and this was only possible with auxiliaries that were not only heavy but also part of the engine.

With the injection pump, which allowed a metered fuel supply, the heavy auxiliaries became unnecessary, and the precondition for a commercial vehicle diesel engine was created. In the years 1923/24 the first diesel driven Lorries were built, and in 1936 series production of the first car diesel engine began. Today, we encounter the diesel engine most frequently in road traffic. Practically all Lorries, buses and tractors are equipped with one, and the share of the compression ignition engine in the car market is increasing. Other major fields of application are merchant shipping, the railways and power stations, in which generators are driven by diesel engines. We should also remember the numerous small diesel engines

which make work easier in many areas. Although Rudolf Diesel was not able to realize the Carnot cycle in his new engine his dream from the very beginning - he created a machine with a variety of applications. It is built to generate powers of 1 kW up to 50,000 kW. The diesel remains the thermal engine that works most economically.