Portrait: Rudolf Diesel, inventor of the Diesel engine

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Portrait
Reading Time:  7 minutes

Rudolf Diesel © volvotrucks.com

Rudolf Diesel © volvotrucks.com

Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel was a German inventor and mechanical engineer, famous for the invention of the Diesel engine, and for his suspicious death at sea. Diesel was the namesake of the 1942 film Diesel. The first successful Diesel engine ran in 1897 and is now on display at the German Technical Museum in Munich. Rudolf Diesel obtained patents for his design in Germany and other countries, including the United States. He was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1978.

One of Diesel’s professors in Munich was Carl von Linde. Diesel was unable to graduate with his class in July 1879 because he fell ill with typhoid fever. While waiting for the next examination date, he gained practical engineering experience at the Sulzer Brothers Machine Works in Winterthur, Switzerland. Diesel graduated in January 1880 with highest academic honours and returned to Paris, where he assisted his former Munich professor, Carl von Linde, with the design and construction of a modern refrigeration and ice plant. Diesel became the director of the plant one year later.

In 1883, Diesel married Martha Flasche, and continued to work for Linde, gaining numerous patents in both Germany and France.

In early 1890, Diesel moved to Berlin with his wife and children, Rudolf Jr, Heddy, and Eugen, to assume management of Linde’s corporate research and development department and to join several other corporate boards there. As he was not allowed to use the patents he developed while an employee of Linde’s for his own purposes, he expanded beyond the field of refrigeration. He first worked with steam, his research into thermal efficiency and fuel efficiency leading him to build a steam engine using ammonia vapour. During tests, however, the engine exploded and almost killed him. His research into high compression cylinder pressures tested the strength of iron and steel cylinder heads. One exploded during a run in. He spent many months in a hospital, followed by health and eyesight problems.

Ever since attending lectures of Carl von Linde, Diesel intended designing an internal combustion engine that could approach the maximum theoretical thermal efficiency of the Carnot cycle. He worked on this idea for several years, and in 1892, he considered his theory to be completed. The same year, Diesel was given the German patent DRP 67207. In 1893, he published a treatise entitled Theory and Construction of a Rational Heat-engine to Replace the Steam Engine and The Combustion Engines Known Today, that he had been working on since early 1892. This treatise formed the basis for his work on and invention of the Diesel engine. By summer 1893, Diesel had realised that his initial theory was erroneous, which led him to file another patent application for the corrected theory in 1893.

Diesel understood thermodynamics and the theoretical and practical constraints on fuel efficiency. He knew that as much as 90% of the energy available in the fuel is wasted in a steam engine. His work in engine design was driven by the goal of much higher efficiency ratios.

In his engine, fuel was injected at the end of the compression stroke and was ignited by the high temperature resulting from the compression. From 1893 to 1897, Heinrich von Buz, director of MAN SE in Augsburg, gave Rudolf Diesel the opportunity to test and develop his ideas.

Rudolf Diesel Memorial Grove at Wittelsbacher Park, Augsburg, Bavaria © LarsEvers/cc-by-sa-3.0 First Diesel engine at MAN Museum © MAN SE/cc-by-3.0 Diesel engine patent from 1893 © Reichspatentamt, Berlin, Germany Rudolf Diesel © volvotrucks.com
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Rudolf Diesel Memorial Grove at Wittelsbacher Park, Augsburg, Bavaria © LarsEvers/cc-by-sa-3.0
After Diesel’s death, his engine underwent much development and became a very important replacement for the steam piston engine in many applications. Because the Diesel engine required a heavier, more robust construction than a gasoline engine, it saw limited use in aviation. However, the Diesel engine became widespread in many other applications, such as stationary engines, agricultural machines and off-highway machinery in general, submarines, ships, and much later, locomotives, trucks, and in modern automobiles.

The Diesel engine has the benefit of running more fuel-efficiently than gasoline engines due to much higher compression ratios and longer duration of combustion, which means the temperature rises more slowly, allowing more heat to be converted to mechanical work.

Diesel was interested in using coal dust or vegetable oil as fuel, and in fact, his engine was run on peanut oil. Although these fuels were not immediately popular, during 2008 rises in fuel prices, coupled with concerns about oil reserves, have led to the more widespread use of vegetable oil and biodiesel.

The primary fuel used in diesel engines is the eponymous diesel fuel, derived from the refinement of crude oil. Diesel is safer to store than gasoline, because its flash point is approximately 175 °F (79.4 °C) higher, and it will not explode.

In a book titled Diesel Engines for Land and Marine Work, Diesel said that “In 1900 a small Diesel engine was exhibited by the Otto company which, on the suggestion of the French Government, was run on arachide [peanut] oil, and operated so well that very few people were aware of the fact. The motor was built for ordinary oils, and without any modification was run on vegetable oil. I have recently repeated these experiments on a large scale with full success and entire confirmation of the results formerly obtained.”

Read more on Deutsche Biographie – Rudolf Diesel, MAN Museum (where the world’s first diesel engine, a test engine, is on display) and Wikipedia Rudolf Diesel (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State - Weather report by weather.com - Global Passport Power Rank - Travel Risk Map - Democracy Index - GDP according to IMF, UN, and World Bank - Global Competitiveness Report - Corruption Perceptions Index - Press Freedom Index - World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - UN Human Development Index - Global Peace Index - Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at comment@wingsch.net. Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.




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