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The Warsaw Voice » Business » April 16, 2008
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Diesel: The Man Who Revolutionized the Engine
April 16, 2008   
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This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), the French-born German engineer who invented the engine that bears his name.

Steam drove the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Engine rooms, ships and locomotives all reverberated to the steady beat of steam-powered pistons. But what drove Diesel to devise an alternative was the steady beat of high maintenance costs. The Imperial Patent Office in Berlin granted Diesel a patent for his "compression combustion engine" Feb. 23, 1893. All he needed now was a partner with unshakable faith and unlimited finance. After a lot of knocking on doors, he finally persuaded Heinrich von Buz (1833-1918), director of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg, to help build a working model. Maschinenfabrik Augsburg, which has since undergone several mergers to form MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg), and Essen-based manufacturer Friedrich Krupp provided premises, staff, technical equipment and funds. The contribution of the engineering staff at Augsburg, who ironed out a lot of the bugs and made several refinements, was considerable.

Diesel began building prototypes in April 1893 and had his first working engine ready in 1897. The similarities to the steam engine were striking. The massive A-shaped steel structure stood three meters tall and had a flywheel mounted on a crosshead to the side. The oil-powered engine generated 18 p.s. and had an impressive efficiency of 26.2 percent. Diesel's "rational heat engine" outclassed everything else available.

The Diesel engine had three major advantages over the rival gasoline engine. Having fewer moving parts made Diesel's engine more durable; using less refined fuel made it cheaper to run; and it was mechanically much more efficient. The engine's success was assured. By the early 20th century Diesel engines were being manufactured commercially. Diesel soon became a millionaire by selling licenses to manufacture his engine all over the world.

Today, most marine vessels and heavy vehicles run on diesel engines, as do more than 40 percent of passenger vehicles. This highly efficient engine has the added advantage of being able to run on pollution-free biomass-to-liquid (BTL) fuel, so it doesn't look like retiring anytime soon.
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