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The diesel engine (correctly known as a compression-ignition or CI engine) is an internal combustion engine in which ignition of the fuel that has been injected into the combustion chamber is caused by the high temperature which a gas achieves (i.e. the air) when greatly compressed (adiabatic compression). Diesel engines work by compressing only the air. This increases the air temperature inside the cylinder to such a high degree that it ignites atomised diesel fuel that is injected into the combustion chamber. This contrasts with spark-ignition engines such as a petrol engine (gasoline engine) or gas engine (using a gaseous fuel as opposed to petrol), which use a spark plug to ignite an air-fuel mixture. In compression-ignition engines, glow plugs (combustion chamber pre-warmers) may be used to aid starting in cold weather, or when the engine uses a lower compression-ratio, or both. The original compression-ignition engine operates on the "constant pressure" cycle of gradual combustion and produces no audible knock. The compression-ignition engine has the highest thermal efficiency (engine efficiency) of any practical internal or external combustion engine due to its very high expansion ratio and inherent lean burn which enables heat dissipation by the excess air. A small efficiency loss is also avoided compared to two-stroke non-direct-injection gasoline engines since unburnt fuel is not present at valve overlap and therefore no fuel goes directly from the intake/injection to the exhaust. Low-speed compression-ignition engines (as used in ships and other applications where overall engine weight is relatively unimportant) can have a thermal efficiency that exceeds 50%. Compression-ignition engines are manufactured in two-stroke and four-stroke versions. They were originally used as a more efficient replacement for stationary steam engines. Since the 1910s they have been used in submarines and ships. Use in locomotives, trucks, heavy equipment and electricity generation plants followed later. In the 1930s, they slowly began to be used in a few automobiles. Since the 1970s, the use of compression-ignition engines in larger on-road and off-road vehicles in the US increased. According to the British Society of Motor Manufacturing and Traders, the EU average for compression-ignition cars accounts for 50% of the total sold, including 70% in France and 38% in the UK. The world's largest compression-ignition engine is currently a Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C Common Rail marine compression-ignition, which produces a peak power output of 84.42 MW (113,210 hp) at 102 rpm.
Source: Wikipedia - Diesel engine