Spark Ignition (SI) Engine and Compression Ignition (CI) Engine: A Comparison

The most prominent difference between Spark Ignition (SI) and Compression Ignition (CI) engines is the type of fuel used in each. In SI engines petrol or gasoline is used as fuel, hence these engines are also called petrol engines. In CI engines diesel is used as fuel, hence they are also called diesel engines.

Here are some other major differences between the SI and CI engines:

1) Type of cycle used: In the case of SI engines, the Otto cycle is used. In this cycle, addition of heat or fuel combustion occurs at a constant volume. The basis of working of CI engines is the Diesel cycle. In this cycle the addition of heat or fuel combustion occurs at a constant pressure.

2) Introduction of fuel in the engine: In the case of SI engines, during the piston’s suction stroke, a mixture of air and fuel is injected from cylinder head portion of the cylinder. The air-fuel mixture is injected via the carburetor that controls the quantity and the quality of the injected mixture. In the case of CI engines, fuel is injected into the combustion chamber towards the end of the compression stroke. The fuel starts burning instantly due to the high pressure. To inject diesel in SI engines, a fuel pump and injector are required. In CI engines, the quantity of fuel to be injected is controlled but the quantity of air to be injected is not controlled.

3) Ignition of fuel: By nature petrol is a highly volatile liquid, but its self-ignition temperature is high. Hence for the combustion of this fuel a spark is necessary to initiate its burning process. To generate this spark in SI engines, the spark plug is placed in the cylinder head of the engine. The voltage is provided to the spark plug either from the battery or from the magneto. With diesel, the self-ignition temperature is comparatively lower. When diesel fuel is compressed to high pressures, its temperature also increases beyond the self-ignition temperature of the fuel. Hence in the case of CI engines, the ignition of fuel occurs due to compression of the air-fuel mixture and there is no need for spark plugs.

4) Compression ratio for the fuel: In the case of SI engines, the compression ratio of the fuel is in the range of 6 to 10 depending on the size of the engine and the power to be produced. In CI engines, the compression ratio for air is 16 to 20. The high compression ratio of air creates high temperatures, which ensures the diesel fuel can self-ignite.

5) Weight of the engines: In CI engines the compression ratio is higher, which produces high pressures inside the engine. Hence CI engines are heavier than SI engines.

6) Speed achieved by the engine: Petrol or SI engines are lightweight, and the fuel is homogeneously burned, hence achieving very high speeds. CI engines are heavier and the fuel is burned heterogeneously, hence producing lower speeds.

7) Thermal efficiency of the engine: In the case of CI engines the value of compression ratio is higher; hence these engines have the potential to achieve higher thermal efficiency. In the case of SI engines the lower compression ratio reduces their potential to achieve higher thermal efficiency.