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Internal Combustion Engine Basics: The History and Development of IC Engines (The Lenoir Engine)

written by: Ashwin Satyanarayana • edited by: Swagatam • updated: 9/24/2008

There have been a lot of engine models that were conceived before our main gasoline and diesel engines came to the fore. This series is all about those wonderful inventions that couldn't make it to the main league. The Lenoir Engine is one of those and check the engine out and how it worked. Read on

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    Though many attempts to build Internal Combustion engines were made during the years 1820 - 1860 to utilize the coal gas, one of the most important things to note when was the manufacture of a non-compression combustion engine by a man named Lenoir, Jean Joseph Etienne (1822-1900), a Belgian-born French inventor.


    The Lenoir engine was essential similar to a double- acting steam engine in which steam was replaced by the gas formed by the combustion of the charge of air-gas mixture. The charge is induced in the first part of the stroke and was ignited by an electric spark. This caused a considerable rise in pressure and the products of combustion did work on the piston for the reminder of the stroke. On the return stroke (when the piston traversed back) the combustion products were discharged from the cylinder. This return stoke was caused by the energy stored during the power stroke in a large flywheel.

    The Lenoir's engine started quickly and much more easily than a steam engine and was more convenient to use. Even though the efficiency of the Lenoir’s engine was lower because of the low expansion ratio, it was better than that of the steam engine those days. The gas consumption was of the order of about 100 Cubic feet per bhp-hr (3.8 Cubic Meters per KW-Hr). The engines, which were made in the range of 0.5 to 3 bhp (0.37 to 2.02 kW-hr) were hand-charged and operated with less than 10 cycles per minute.

    By the year 1865, about 500 of the engines were sold in France and England. Reportedly, Lenoir could even employ one of his one-horsepower engines on a crude motor vehicle, and a two-horsepower engine to drive a boat. A faulty ignition system and the fact that the engine used up way too much fuel, this engine remained unpopular and could not be commercialized.