Diesel Technology: Past, Present and Future

The word ‘diesel’ and diesel technology has been a part of our lexicon for decades. Yet most of us don’t even know where the word came from or how and when diesel technology began. Modern day diesel technology began with an invention by an engineer named Rudolf Diesel. In 1893, Mr. Diesel invented what we now refer to as the ‘Diesel cycle’. The diesel cycle contrasted with the ‘Otto cycle’- which was invented by Nikolaus August Otto and Eugen Langen in 1876.

Diesel technology differs from the original gasoline powered motors in the way that the fuel is ignited. A diesel engine, also called an internal combustion engine, uses highly compressed hot air for fuel ignition. Gasoline engines, on the other hand, use a spark to ignite the fuel. Have you ever heard someone refer to the ‘spark plug’ in a gasoline engine? That is what generates the spark, which ignites the fuel. In diesel technology, engines use ‘compression ignition’. This process involves fuel from a high pressure fuel injector being injected into a combustion chamber and then igniting in the cylinder.


How do we use Diesel Technology Presently?

Diesel technology is used much more than people might realize. You can find diesel engines in many more vehicles than simply large cargo trucks. Diesel technology is used a lot in marine vehicles, for example. The US Navy uses diesel technology for its large ships as well as its small boats. You will also find Diesel technology being utilized in everything from heavy construction equipment to generators to compressors. What many people do not know is that over half of European passenger cars use diesel engines. Why? Well, because diesel engines have several advantages over traditional gasoline engines.

But diesel engines are loud, fuel-guzzling and polluting, right? Absolutely not. During the last four decades there have been significant improvements in diesel technology. Nowadays, diesel engines are much more efficient than petrol engines. Cars with diesel engines tend to have about 30% better fuel economy than cars with gas engines. On top of that, diesel engines actually have lower carbon dioxide emissions than gasoline engines. Oftentimes, their carbon dioxide emissions are lower by 25%.

The advantages of using diesel technology in passenger vehicles don’t stop there. Most diesel technician’s agree that maintenance of diesel engines is cheaper and easier than petrol engines. They don’t have spark plugs, coils or complex high voltage ignition systems. Also, diesel engine parts are much more durable than gas engine parts. Diesel engines are traditionally made from iron (although there have been some auto manufacturers that have moved toward aluminum). Overall, consumers that have diesel engine cars need less routine maintenance, such as oil changes, and their engines will outlive gas engine counterparts by 2 to 1.

Some other advantages of using diesel technology over petrol technology are:

  • Diesel fuel is considered safer than gasoline in many situations. It does not explode and or give off large amounts of flammable vapor like petrol does.
  • Gasoline engines have higher waste from heating and cooling systems than diesel engines do.
  • Biodiesel fuel – an easily made, non-petroleum fuel – can run directly in many diesel engines. Gasoline engines would be damaged if attempting to run on biodiesel fuel (without significant adjustments to the engine).


What is the Future of Diesel Technology?

The use of computers and advancements being made in new fuels, such as biodiesel fuel, makes the future of diesel technology look very bright. Over two-thirds of new cars sold in Europe have diesel engines; a trend that European car makers don’t see slowing down anytime soon. The emissions from diesel engine fuels continue to be lowered as engine and fuel technology develops.

Biodiesel will especially continue to be developed. Most diesel engines can use biodiesel fuel with hardly any modifications to the engine – many don’t need to be modified at all. Because biodiesel fuel is made from plant or animal oils, it is renewable, cleaner, and overall much better for the environment than petroleum based fuels.

Auto manufactures in Europe, such as Audi, continue to explore and innovate with diesel technology. And with companies like Ford jumping on board, Americans could very well start to see much more diesel technology in the very near future.

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