Diesels: A Look Back and Ahead

By Ron Kotrba | July 15, 2009
Without Diesel, the man or the engine, there would be no biodiesel, no renewable diesel and no green diesel. There would simply be bio, renewable and green-catch words tacked onto everything today from products to companies making them sound more environmentally friendly. For those seeking a better, cleaner and more efficient transportation technology, it's already here. In fact, it's been under development for 120 years. Clean diesel.

While automakers are making progress in optimizing gasoline engine technology, diesels are still more thermally efficient overall. According to Diesel Technology Forum executive director Allen Schaeffer, diesel engines today are 42 to 45 percent thermally efficient, whereas gasoline engines average thermal efficiency percentages in the high 20s. Make no mistake though, gas engine efficiency will be increasing as engine makers attempt to make spark ignition more diesel-like. And while diesel thermal efficiency today is as high as
45 percent, Schaeffer says the goal is to boost this to 55 percent in the next decade. Add to all of this the virtual elimination of soot and nitrogen oxides from tailpipe emissions resulting from U.S. EPA regulations, which are the toughest in the world, and what follows is an efficient, clean power plant.

I'm excited about this month's issue, which is primarily focused on diesel technology, innovation and advancement, leading off with a story about the life and death of the man who started it all, Rudolf Diesel. With a host of international experts, associate editor Nicholas Zeman discusses Diesel's successes and hang-ups, which some say could have ultimately led to his death when he disappeared from The Dresden steamship as it crossed the English Channel. Some say Diesel suffered from depression and his death was suicide, a jump overboard into the murky, cold waters below. Others suggest he was murdered by ruthless oil barons or technological competitors. Without the pioneering achievements of his life though, the world would be a very different place.

Throughout the 120 years since its inception, the diesel engine has evolved considerably. For years, the sheer size and bulkiness relegated diesels to stationary use, but Prosper L'Orange's development of a pre-combustion chamber changed that and soon afterwards, diesels were becoming popular engines in mobile applications. Then, decades later when the EPA began to get serious about cutting diesel emissions, drastic changes came. The regulations virtually spurred all advancements, such as electronic controls and
high pressure fuel injection, from the 1980s onward. Now, with the chapter closing on emissions, the new charge is to further optimize efficiencies and reduce carbon.

Ron Kotrba
Biodiesel Magazine
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