Journey of the Technologies that shaped today’s world: IC Engine

Steam engines changed a lot. They revolutionized how things were carried around, how people moved around and how industries worked. However, steam engines worked on of course, steam, which is not easy to create. It cannot be stored easily. So, one needed water and coal. Coal needed to be burned, water would heat up and steam would build. To generate sufficient power, the entire setup needed to be significantly large. That meant its applications could not be ubiquitous.

Therefore, despite the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and power of steam engine, it was not practical to be adopted in all the places. Especially for day to day activities, it was not sensible to use such bulky machinery. As a result, steam engine despite their success in industrial and large applications, did not change a lot of things for individuals. For personal usage, the machinery needed to be compact, portable, and most importantly safe. This was achieved when Internal Combustion engines arrived on the scene.

The first Internal Combustion Engine was created by Étienne Lenoir around 1860. However, the real popularity and application of Internal Combustion Engines came Nicolaus Otto created the modern IC engine in 1876. The IC Engine works on hydrocarbon fuels which are extracted from Petroleum- mostly Diesel, Petrol and Gas. These fuels have high calorific value and they are highly combustible. This makes these fuel very useful but also very dangerous. IC Engines used valves to control the flow of fuel and supply of air. The controlled combustion generates heat which makes the gases expand. As the space is confined with only piston movable. The piston moves and through crank-shaft mechanism the wheel moves.

The most popular IC engines are 4-stroke engines. 4-stroke means there are four steps in each cycle of the engine operation. These steps are-

  • Intake stroke
  • Compression stroke
  • Combustion stroke
  • Exhaust stroke

As the fuel has high calorific value, a very small engine can generate sufficient power to move a car or a truck or a bike. These can be very compact and highly portable. IC engines have revolutionized how people move individually. The first modern car was built by the German engineer by Karl Benz in 1885. In early 1900s, companies like Ford and General Motors took car-making to next level. Assembly line production made the car manufacturing and later the entire manufacturing industry very fast and highly efficient. In last 100 years, cars and bikes have taken over the roads. More and more people now have cars and bikes. Cars are still costly and remain a status symbol in the society.

The compactness of IC Engines also made it possible to design small but powerful machines. This independence made it possible to design machines that could fly or travel under water. While the independence of owning individual machines is exciting, but this also increases the pollution. The cars and motorbikes are one of the largest polluters across the world.

Our independence to move around is wonderful and precious but we also have to understand that the environment is priceless. We have only one earth. We got it from our forefathers, and we have to handover this to the next generation. We should use our bikes and cars sparingly and responsibly. Pool whenever possible, use public transport whenever possible. Let’s not turn the boons bestowed by the science into a curse.