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Sustainable Mobility

Technical and environmental challenges for the automotive sector

Week 2 Session 1 Engine basic concepts

Maria Thirouard

IFPEN / IFP School 2014

What is an engine?
In this chapter we will take a look at some basic knowledge about engines as you will need to be
familiar with certain concepts regarding engines to better understand the fuel properties and the
refining processes.
To answer this first question we can say that
an engine is a machine designed to convert
energy (in our case, from the fuel) into useful
mechanical motion.
Even though there is a wide variety of types,
the engines used in cars, buses, trucks and
tractors are all very similar and share many
common types of components. We need
everyone to be familiar with the main engine
components before we explain how an engine
works so well go through a brief description
of those components as part of a terminology

Engine: basic parts

You see, when the piston is in the top position, we call it the top dead center. In the opposite way,
when the piston is in the bottom position, we call it the bottom dead center.

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IFPEN / IFP School 2014

The distance between the top dead center or TDC and the bottom dead center or BDC, which is
the distance the piston actually moves each time, is called the stroke.

The inside diameter of the cylinder is called the bore. The dimensions of the stroke and the bore
give us the total volume swept by the piston in one stroke, what we call the volume displacement
of an engine.
So when we say that an engine has 4 cylinders and its a 2 liter engine, it means that the total
volume swept by the piston is 2 liters. By using a very simple equation, the total volume
displacement is calculated as the number of cylinders, times the stroke, times , times the bore
squared, divided by 4.

The last definition in this terminology section is the compression ratio. The compression ratio is the
proportion of the volume inside the cylinder when the piston is at BDC over the volume inside the
cylinder when the piston is at TDC.

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IFPEN / IFP School 2014

Thats it for the terminology part. Of course this is a very simplified description but the main parts
are there and we will need this in order to understand how an engine works.
Now, engines can be classified in many different ways: by the engine cycle used, the layout, the
energy source, the configuration etc... Most of the engines used as a power supply for cars follow a
thermodynamic cycle with four basic steps that are constantly repeated every two revolutions: they
are called 4-Stroke engines.

Stroke Engines: General Principle

The first stroke is the intake stroke. This is also known as a suction stroke because the piston
moves to the Bottom Dead Center position creating a drop in pressure. The inlet valve opens and
the vaporized fuel/air mixture is sucked into the combustion chamber. The inlet valve closes at the
end of this stroke

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IFPEN / IFP School 2014

The compression stroke is next. Both valves (intake and exhaust) are closed and the piston starts
moving up towards the Top Dead Center position. The fuel/air mixture is compressed and as a
result, pressure increases inside the cylinder, as can be seen on the graph.

The third step is the power step. When the piston reaches a point just before the Top Dead Center,
the spark plug ignites the fuel mixture. The exact point at which the fuel burns might vary but the
pressure increase produced by combustion forces the piston back down towards the Bottom Dead
Center. The power produced by gases pushing the piston is transmitted to the crankshaft via the
connecting rod mechanism.

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IFPEN / IFP School 2014

Finally, at the end of the power stroke, once the piston reaches the Bottom Dead Center position,
the exhaust valve opens. The piston starts moving up again, pressure inside the cylinder drops and
the open exhaust valve allows the gases to escape from the cylinder. This is called the exhaust

At the end of this stroke, the exhaust valve closes, the inlet valve opens again and the cycle is
repeated all over again.
As you can see, 4-stroke engines require two revolutions to complete a full engine cycle.

Gasoline and Diesel engines

Now that weve seen the working principle of a 4-stroke engine, lets move on to the differences
between gasoline and diesel engines. Gasoline and diesel are both petroleum products but their
properties are different. Consequently, engines run on diesel or on gasoline have some different
Gasoline engines
Well start by the gasoline engine since gasoline is the fuel used worldwide for passenger cars.
Gasoline engines are often called spark-ignition engines. In these engines a mixture of fuel and air is
usually pre-mixed in the intake system before entering the combustion chamber.
Since the air/fuel mixture is done before entering the combustion chamber, the mixture is very
homogeneous. A spark plug is then used to time the combustion for optimal performance.
Indeed, it is the spark that initiates combustion so that the homogeneous mixture will burn.

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IFPEN / IFP School 2014

Diesel engines
Even though it is common in Europe to have a passenger car running with a Diesel engine, diesel is
most commonly known around the world as the engine for heavy duty applications.
Diesel engines are often called compression ignition engines and the process differs from the
gasoline counterparts in several significant ways.
In Diesel engines, air is brought into the combustion chamber through the intake system, often at
boosted pressure thanks to turbocharging. As the piston rises, the air is compressed to a much
higher pressur than in gasoline engines thanks to a much higher compression ratio of the Diesel
To properly time the start of combustion in a Diesel engine we rely on the injection of the fuel
directly into the combustion chamber that now already contains hot, high pressure air.
Instead of a spark, it is the dynamics of highly compressed air that is sufficient to initiate
combustion when the fuel is spread into the cylinder. However, in reality, the combustion does not
start instantaneously. There is a short delay between the initial injection of fuel and the start of
combustion. During this delay, Diesel is being vaporized and mixed to the air. When the combustion
starts, the mixture is still on going and is essentially heterogeneous.

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IFPEN / IFP School 2014