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Car engine: types and operation

Posted On November 20th, 2019

Internal combustion engine

The internal combustion engine dates back to the late 1800s and is the most common and used in most vehicles. First we must specify that there are different types of internal combustion engines . However, their operation is based on a fundamental principle: the transformation of the energy produced by combustion into mechanical energy.

This type of motor differs in different classes and the two main varieties are: volumetric motors and continuous motors . Within these categories there are also other sub-categories that practically constitute all the other known engines (diesel and four-stroke for example, but also petrol, LPG and methane).

A common element to all internal combustion engines is the various systems that allow their operation: ignition system, starting system, fuel system, cooling system and exhaust system. The fuels useful for the operation of the internal combustion engine are different: petrol, diesel but also methane and LPG. Recently, thanks to recent technologies, hydrogen-powered engines have also been developed. Recent technologies have allowed us to develop hybrids that use this type of dual-fuel engine.

Electric motor

Electric motor cars are new in recent years. This type of engine has not yet taken hold due to scepticism on the part of customers: limited autonomy and significant charging times. However, it is starting to be a valid solution in economic terms, but also in terms of performance thanks to the development of recent technologies. The autonomy varies from 200km to 600km for the most recent models.

These are based on the use of rechargeable batteries that exploit the chemical energy subsequently used as electricity. The most common batteries use lithium, but lithium-titanium batteries have also been developed.

Recharging is done via the electricity network. The resources used to produce it are usually: coal, hydropower, fuel oil, natural gas and other renewable sources. It is possible to find countries that also use nuclear energy. The electric motors were “united” in recent years to gasoline engines, mainly by creating a class of vehicles called ” the Bridi “. In this case, both systems are used to try to make the best use of the energy produced by the two mechanisms both in terms of performance and in terms of lower consumption and therefore convenience.

One of the strengths of the electric motor is undoubtedly the level of emissions. The last few years have seen the exhaust fumes of cars, guilty as the main causes of pollution within cities. The solution seemed to have arrived with these ” zero-emission ” machines and, as we have already said, the charging sources mainly exploit renewable energies . As far as the economic aspect is concerned, this varies from country to country, based on the cost of electricity and fuel in the various states: it is, therefore, necessary to evaluate the frequency of use, cost of the vehicle and price differences between petrol (or other fuel) and electricity.

Diesel engine

The diesel engine is part of the family of internal combustion engines. It uses diesel fuel for feeding and is based on compression; this means that the air inside the cylinder that allows ignition is compressed to high values, so the fuel ignites; in fact, just before the piston inside the cylinder reaches the highest point, the fuel (the diesel fuel) is inserted (still inside the cylinder). The compressed air at this point reaches, as already said, high temperatures which allow combustion and therefore ignition. The diesel engine is therefore also referred to as a compression ignition engine.

The life of a diesel engine is quite considerable. While petrol engines, against which they usually compare, have an average life of 250,000 km, diesel engines can reach 600,000 km. Another element to the advantage of this type of engine is the cost of the fuel , usually lower; at the same time the performances are considered slightly lower compared to petrol engines, but obviously the elements to be evaluated are different also in this case: better to be based on one’s own needs.

In economic terms cars using a diesel engine can exploit a system that combines two fuels: diesel and methane. In this case the new technologies have allowed the use of a diesel engine (with all its features and its advantages) but saving on costs and emissions and therefore consuming methane. Also, in this case, we speak of ” hybrid ” in a solution that combines power and savings.

Four-stroke engine

The four-stroke engine is the one commonly used on cars. This is part of the first type described above ( internal combustion engine ) and at the same time the diesel engine can be classified as a four-stroke engine due to its operation. In addition to the latter, however, it is possible to find four-stroke engines that use petrol, methane, LPG, etc. as fuel.

In addition to cars, the diesel engine is used extensively on motorcycles and scooters , but also on low-tonnage trucks . The name of this type of engine is based on its operation precisely because there are four passages that allow combustion: suction, compression, expansion and discharge.

The chemical energy in this case is transformed into thermal energy every two complete turns of the piston within the machinery responsible for combustion. The advantages of the four-stroke engine are different: to begin with, there is an efficiency in high combustion and secondly, but equally important as a characteristic, it has lower levels of consumption and harmful emissions compared to a two-stroke engine, for example. At the same time, however, this engine also has disadvantages: the heaviness and complexity of its operation mean that the four-stroke engine has less power in the case of vehicles with the same displacement and slower performance in terms of accelerations.

Commonly four-stroke engines are designed to operate simultaneously with either petrol or natural gas ( or LPG ), without having to make changes, apart from those necessary for the fuel system.

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