No other engine inventor's name is as closely tied to his engine as Rudolf Diesel's is. But Diesel worked hard to make it that way. Diesel started his education in Paris and spent most of his time in the museum of arts and crafts.
The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War forced him to leave Paris and go to London. He later studied in Munich under the German chemist Carl Von Linde. He invented the refrigeration system used now in many electrical refrigerators. Diesel grew to become a very important engineer and inventor.
He attempted to find better ways to use steam as the working fluid in heat engines. His patents in 1892 and 1893 were not for the engine but for the cycle of an engine employing the compression-ignition technique. In this cycle there were four phases. He did not have one fully rolling until 1897.
Diesel attacked the problem of the compression-ignition engine not as a new concept but as a refinement of the gas engine invented by Nikolaus Otto in 1876. He spent the rest of his life introducing his invention to the world. He had many problems with manufacturing, licensing and financial stability.
On September 29, 1913, Diesel vanished off the Harwich-Antwerp ferry crossing the channel to England and his body was never found. Since his death the diesel engine has been very helpful in manufacturing and transportation.
He originally designed the diesel engine to run on peanut oil. Only later did petroleum become the standard. In a 1912 speech, Diesel said "the use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today, but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal tar products of the present time."
Diesel revised his original model and on February 17, 1894, the new engine ran for more than a minute. It took nearly three years to produce a viable working model. The engine he produced had a mechanical efficiency of more than 75 percent where the steam engines of the time were operating on less than 10 percent.
(source: Ford, via a news release from BioDiesel)
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