History of four-stroke engine
The first internal-combustion engine to operate successfully on the four-stroke cycle used gas as a fuel and was built in 1876 by Nicolaus August Otto, a self-taught German engineer at the Gas-motoreufabrik Deutz factory near Cologne, for many years the largest manufacturer of internal-combustion engines in the world. It was one of Otto’s associates – Gottlieb Daimler – who later developed an engine to run on petrol which was described in patent number 4315 of 1885. He also pioneered its application to the motor vehicle
Petrol engine (spark-ignition)
Petrol engines take in a flammable mixture of air and petrol which is ignited by a timed spark when the charge is compressed. These engines are therefore sometimes called spark-ignition (S.I.) engines. These engines require four piston strokes to complete one cycle: an air-and-fuel intake stroke moving outward from the cylinder head, an inward movement towards the cylinder head compressing the charge, an outward power stroke, and an inward exhaust stroke.
The four-stroke-cycle engine step
Induction stroke step
Induction stroke, the inlet valve is opened and the exhaust valve is closed. The piston descends, moving away from the cylinder head. The speed of the piston moving along the cylinder creates a pressure reduction or depression which reaches a maximum of about 0.3 bar below atmospheric pressure at one-third from the beginning of the stroke.
The depression actually generated will depend on the speed and load experienced by the engine, but a typical average value might be 0.12 bar below atmospheric pressure. This depression induces (sucks in) a fresh charge of air and atomised petrol in proportions ranging from 10 to 17 parts of air to one part of petrol by weight.
An engine which induces fresh charge by means of a depression in the cylinder is said to be ‘normally aspirated’ or ‘naturally aspirated’.
Compression stroke step
Compression stroke, both the inlet and the exhaust valves are closed. The piston begins to ascend towards the cylinder head. The induced air-and-petrol charge is progressively compressed to something of the order of one-eighth to one tenth of the cylinder’s original volume at the piston’s innermost position.
This compression squeezes the air and atomised-petrol molecules closer together and not only increases the charge pressure in the cylinder but also raises the temperature. Typical maximum cylinder compression pressures will range between 8 and 14 bar with the throttle open and the engine running under load.
Power stroke step
Power stroke, both the inlet and the exhaust valves are closed and, just before the piston approaches the top of its stroke during compression, a spark-plug ignites the dense combustible charge. By the time the piston reaches the innermost point of its stroke, the charge mixture begins to burn, generates heat, and rapidly raises the pressure in the cylinder until the gas forces exceed the resisting load.
The burning gases then expand and so change the piston’s direction of motion and push it to its outermost position. The cylinder pressure then drops from a peak value of about 60 bar under full load down to maybe 4 bar near the outermost movement of the piston.
Exhaust stroke step
Exhaust stroke, at the end of the power stroke the inlet valve remains closed but the exhaust valve is opened. The piston changes its direction of motion and now moves from the outermost to the innermost position. Most of the burnt gases will be expelled by the existing pressure energy of the gas, but the returning piston will push the last of the spent gases out of the cylinder through the exhaust-valve port and to the atmosphere.
During the exhaust stroke, the gas pressure in the cylinder will fall from the exhaust-valve opening pressure (which may vary from 2 to 5 bar, depending on the engine speed and the throttle-opening position) to atmospheric pressure or even less as the piston nears the innermost position towards the cylinder head.