Diesel Engine and Its Evolution Since Invention


The diesel engine is an internal combustion motor. It is different from a traditional internal combustion engine because it operates under differing principles, as it depends upon gradual combustion of fuel, instead of its explosion (working under Otto’s cycle), once it enters cylinders (Corda 575). The diesel engine is a popular motor due to its high thermal efficiency and a history of stable and successful maintenance. It is used by almost all automobile manufacturers regardless of the class of vehicles they assemble and their price. Therefore, the need for satisfying the requirements of the constantly evolving automotive industry contributes to the continuing evolution of this type of engine. However, even though the diesel engine is a common technology nowadays used by almost everyone in developing and developed countries, most people are hardly acquainted with its evolution – the story of revelations, intrigues, and controversies.

The paper at hand aims at studying the evolution of the diesel engine. Special attention will be paid to the roots of the idea that has become the foundation of the invention. Moreover, the paper will briefly review the story of the inventor of the diesel engine. Nevertheless, the central focus of the paper is the evolution itself. In this way, the objective of the research paper is to determine the primary stages of the evolution of this machine. Finally, the idea is to elaborate on the role of the diesel engine in the automotive industry because the necessity of satisfying automobile manufacturers’ needs is what contributed to the change and constant evolution of the motor.

Background of Diesel Engine

The roots of the idea of the diesel engine are inseparable from the popularity of steam engines. The prototype of the steam engine was developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. However, over time, people have forgotten about this valuable knowledge and reinvented it in the eighteenth-nineteenth century. Introduced by James Watt in the late eighteenth century, steam engines gained momentum during subsequent decades and were widely used in most industries (Shrinivasa 368).

Nevertheless, regardless of their relative efficiency and popularity, steam engines had several significant drawbacks. First and foremost, their construction was a cumbersome process due to the technical specificities of the design. Moreover, the central challenge was the expensiveness of their operation because of wasting vast volumes of resources (Roth). These weaknesses of the steam engines initiated the process of working on the model of an engine that would be thermally effective and use fewer resources.

The diesel engine is commonly associated with the name Rudolph Diesel. However, not everyone knows that the very design offered by Diesel was based on the ideas of other people. The development of the new engine began with the experiment conducted by Thomas Newcomen in 1710 – long before Rudolph Diesel was born. However, Newcomen published his findings on testing the idea of the fuel combustion engine, and it was the end of his experimental activities (Mina). About one century later, in 1824, Sadi Carnot developed a thermodynamic cycle theory. Still, both theoretical and practical achievements were related to heat engines, and none of the researchers managed to invent a new engine (Shrinivasa 368). Nevertheless, they became the foundation of Diesel’s idea and design of the new motor, and it was Diesel that first patented the new thermally efficient engine (Mina).

History of Diesel Engine

As mentioned above it was Rudolph Diesel that patented the idea behind the new engine. This history-changing event dates back to 1892 (Mina). Later, he cooperated with the most influential manufacturers of that time to develop the prototype of the new engine based on his calculations. According to Diesel’s assumptions, the efficiency of the new agency was estimated at the rate of 50% that was an extremely appealing and marvelous opportunity because the efficiency of the used steam engines was significantly lower (Shrinivasa 369). As steam engine manufacturers agreed to invest in the project, Diesel began working on the new engine.

Designing and constructing an operating prototype was a complicated task to perform. It is essential to note that Diesel developed three prototypes, and it was the third one that later became a generally known design of diesel engine. The prototype was a failure because the cylinder blew up, as Diesel used gasoline for running it. Nevertheless, it was as well associated with a success story, as it helped to prove that auto-ignition is a good idea. The second prototype was as well a failure. Because the shaft of the engine was rotated by the external drive, the efficiency was lower than expected, and the prototype was recognized idle. Finally, the third prototype was a success. Even though the efficiency was lower than calculated (26%), it was still more productive than steam engines of that time (efficiency of around 10%). The success of the third prototype can be explained by its design and the approach to choosing fuel. In this way, the stress was laid on changing coal (a common fuel of that time) with liquid fuel. Still, it is critical to mention that once Diesel ran the first assembled engine (not a prototype), its efficiency was over 75% that was unbelievable for the engines of the nineteenth century (Mina).

Still, there were some challenges connected to this design because it was complicated to control the combustion of liquid fuel in cylinders (Shrinivasa 369-370). Nevertheless, this very prototype was a success for the nineteenth century because it pointed to the opportunity of replacing expensive and wasteful steam engines with more efficient ones. So, it was the desire to minimize resource wastes and increase the efficiency of engines supported by the powerful manufacturers that initiated the further changes in the industry of engine manufacturing and the related sectors. At the same time, it is paramount to mention that there were other developments of engines for replacing steam engines. For instance, heavy-oil engines were patented at the end of the nineteenth century as well. However, Diesel’s engine was easier to adapt and it was not dependent upon an external source of heat for ignition (Roth). That is why it was given preference to compare with less efficient and convenient prototypes.

Evolution of Diesel Engine

Regardless of the efficiency of the prototype, there were critical challenges related to the operation of the new engine. They contributed to the necessity of the further evolution of the engine. The consequent changes in the design and operation of diesel engines are inseparable from the research activities and inventions of outstanding engineers and physicians. For instance, there was an issue of the inability to control liquid fuel combustion in cylinders. The invention of the fuel injection system by Robert Bosch had helped to solve this problem (Shrinivasa 370). It became the first stage of the evolution of the diesel engine because it contributed to the increased stability of the machine.

The next stage of the evolution of the diesel engine was marked with the invention and introduction of the system of cold injection in 1910. Stuart McKechnie, an engineer from England, introduced the system that helped to make the operation of the new engine smoother and decreased the noise rate (engines became quieter). The success of this invention contributed to another upgrade of the engine – reduced compression ratio and cylinder pressure. It was necessary for eliminating the traditional knocking sound in the engine and made it quiet (Wright 241).

Because of the increased efficiency and quietness, diesel engines have become extremely popular. They were manufactured in different countries around the globe and were used even in the most remote areas. Still, these were not the only specificities of diesel engines. What made them even more attractive is the fact that they could be operated using different liquid fuels. It was predetermined by Rudolph Diesel himself. However, he did not use different kinds of fuel to run the engine. This change was introduced during the First World War. It can be explained by the increased need for transport. At the same time, the new types of fuel were used mainly in the most remote areas. It can be associated with limited access to the needed fuel. In this way, people chose vegetable oil and lubricants to replace gasoline – liquid fuel recommended by the inventor (Shrinivasa 371). The significance of these substitutes is the fact that they did not decrease the efficiency of the engine. Still, it is essential to note that the design, in this case, remained unchanged. However, due to the increased opportunities of using the engine, this change is perceived as a separate stage of evolution.

Diesel engines underwent the next wave of upgrading in the 1950s. By this time, diesel locomotives replaced those driven by steam engines, and most automobile manufacturers, including Ford and Mercedes Benz, assembled cars using diesel engines (Roth). It is connected to the change in the design of engines. They were manufactured with quartz windows fitted inside. This option made it possible to photograph the spray and combustion of diesel fuel while running the engine that helped to improve the understanding of the operation of the motor.

In the mid-1960s, the new stage of the diesel engine began. It is associated with the invention and introduction of computers in engineering. They were used for imitating the operation of cylinders and simulating air cycles inside of the engine. As a result, they helped to reveal some internal challenges and contributed to the incorporation of pressure transducers in the engines that increased their efficiency (Shrinivasa 371). Later in the 1960s, turbocharging and charge air cooling was introduced. It helped not only increase efficiency but also make the engines more durable and decrease fuel wastes (Bennick).

The 1970s was the most remarkable period in the evolution of diesel engines. It is connected to the rise of Arab oil-extracting countries and fuel price volatility. Because of it, there was a critical need for decreasing the volume of used fuel due to the development and general acceptance of the fuel economy standards (Roth). It was 1979 when General Motors designed several types of diesel engines that varied in productivity and fuel combustion (Roth). This invention has become miraculous in terms of saving costs and reducing the impact of gas exhaustions on the natural environment that has turned into a challenge by the beginning of the 1980s (“A Brief History of Diesel”).

Since the introduction of the fuel economy and emission standards, all changes in the design and operation of diesel engines were associated with the need to meet these standards. The idea was to satisfy the peculiar needs of automobile manufacturers and individual consumers based on their requirements of automobile power and consumption of fuel. Therefore, there are different types of modern diesel engines – with two- and four-stroke cycles – that determine the volume of exhaustions and the process of combustion (Bennett 50-51). Nowadays, diesel engines have turned into far more sophisticated machines than they were when Rudolph Diesel designed his prototypes and assembled the first engine. They are electric-mechanical machines that have several main attributes – cost, performance, packaging, and durability (Xin et al. 248). These aspects determine the performance and functions of diesel engines and have a direct influence on the interest in purchasing them. More than that, they identify belonging to a particular class because they vary across automobile manufacturers.

As for now, the popularity and operation of diesel engines are inseparable from several significant issues. Most of them are connected to environmental challenges. The idea is that what was efficient in the nineteenth century should be continuously evolving to meet the needs of the twenty-first century. In this way, the use of diesel engines is commonly criticized for the vast emissions of exhaust gas that have a negative influence on the natural environment. The issue is aggravated by the increased number of automobiles, especially in urban areas. In this way, the problem of air pollution is connected to the increased consumption of fuel. Because it is a non-renewable natural resource, manufacturers of engines are forced to constantly upgrade the design of business engines so that fuel wastes are decreased as well as the impact on the natural environment is minimized (Blanco-Rodriguez 6).


Based on all facts mentioned above, it is evident that a common diesel engine underwent significant changes over a century since it was designed and assembled. Nowadays, it has different attributes and aspects aimed at satisfying the needs of the market and industry. In this way, diesel engines changed over time, and the volumes of the introduced changes were spectacular due to the advancements in the industry and science. From this perspective, they turned from simple mechanic machines to more sophisticated ones, incorporating both electric and mechanic details. At the same time, it is essential to note that, regardless of the responsiveness of diesel engine manufacturers to the standards of fuel economy and environmental protection, several significant challenges determine the future changes in the design and performance of engines. Due to the increased environmental concerns and decreased reserves of non-renewable resources, diesel engine manufacturers will likely face the necessity of increasing efficiency of engines with a decreased use of fuel to survive in the era of eco-friendliness and green awareness and outperform manufacturers of eco-friendly cars driven by engines operating based on renewable sources of energy.

Works Cited

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Bennick, Curt. “50 Years of Equipment Impact: Five Decades of Diesel Engine Evolution.” ForConstructionPros. 2015.

Blanco-Rodriguez, David. Modeling and Observation of Exhaust Gas Concentrations for Diesel Engine Control. Springer, 2014.

“A Brief History of Diesel: How Engines Have Changed to Meet the Market’s Fuel Demands.” Raney’s, 2015. Web.

Corda, Stephen. Introduction to Aerospace Engineering with a Flight Test Perspective. Wiley & Sons, 2017.

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Shrinivasa, U. “The Evolution of Diesel Engines.” Resonance, vol. 17, no. 4, 2012, pp. 365-377.

Wright, Gus. Fundamental of Medium/Heavy Duty Diesel Engines. Jones and Bartlett Learning, 2017.

Xin, Quinfan, et al. “Improving the Environmental Performance of Heavy-Duty Vehicles and Engines: Key Issues and System Design Approaches.” Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Technologies for Improved Environmental Performance: Towards Zero Carbon Transportation, edited by Richard Folkson, Elsevier, 2014, pp. 225-278.