Diesel fuel

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A tank of diesel fuel on a truck Red diesel tank.jpg
A tank of diesel fuel on a truck

Diesel fuel /ˈdzəl/ in general is any liquid fuel specifically designed for use in diesel engines, whose fuel ignition takes place, without any spark, as a result of compression of the inlet air mixture and then injection of fuel. Therefore, diesel fuel needs good compression ignition characteristics.


The most common type of diesel fuel is a specific fractional distillate of petroleum fuel oil, but alternatives that are not derived from petroleum, such as biodiesel, biomass to liquid (BTL) or gas to liquid (GTL) diesel are increasingly being developed and adopted. To distinguish these types, petroleum-derived diesel is increasingly called petrodiesel in some academic circles. [1]

In many countries, diesel fuel is standardised. For example, in the European Union, the standard for diesel fuel is EN 590. Diesel fuel has many colloquial names, most commonly, it is simply referred to as Diesel. In the UK, diesel fuel for on-road use is commonly abbreviated DERV, standing for diesel-engined road vehicle, which carries a tax premium over equivalent fuel for non-road use. [2] In Australia, diesel fuel is also known as distillate, [3] and in Indonesia, it is known as Solar, a trademarked name by the local oil company Pertamina.

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) is a diesel fuel with substantially lowered sulfur contents. As of 2016, almost all of the petroleum-based diesel fuel available in the UK, mainland Europe, and North America is of a ULSD type.

Before diesel fuel had been standardised, the majority of diesel engines typically ran on cheap fuel oils; these fuel oils are still used in watercraft diesel engines. Despite being specifically designed for diesel engines, diesel fuel can also be used as fuel for several non-diesel engines, for example the Akroyd engine, the Stirling engine, or boilers for steam engines.



Diesel fuel originated from experiments conducted by German scientist and inventor Rudolf Diesel for his compression-ignition engine he invented in 1892. Originally, Diesel did not consider using any specific type of fuel, instead, he claimed that the operating principle of his rational heat motor would work with any kind of fuel in any state of matter. [4] However, both the first diesel engine prototype, and the first functional Diesel engine were only designed for liquid fuels. [5]

At first, Diesel tested crude oil from Pechelbronn, but soon replaced it with petrol and kerosene, because crude oil proved to be too viscous, [6] with the main testing fuel for the Diesel engine being kerosene. [7] In addition to that, Diesel experimented with different types of lamp oil from various sources, as well as different types of petrol and ligroin, which all worked well as Diesel engine fuels. Later, Diesel also tested coal tar creosote, [8] paraffin oil, crude oil, gasoil, and fuel oil, which eventually worked as well. [9] In Scotland and France, shale oil was used as fuel for the first 1898 production Diesel engines because other fuels were too expensive. [10] In 1900, the French Otto society built a Diesel engine for the use with crude oil, which was exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition [11] and the 1911 World's Fair in Paris. [12] The engine actually ran on peanut oil instead of crude oil, and no modifications were necessary for peanut oil operation. [11]

During his first Diesel engine tests, Diesel also used illuminating gas as fuel, and managed to build functional designs, both with and without pilot injection. [13] According to Diesel, neither a coal dust producing industry existed, nor was fine, high quality coal dust commercially available in the late 1890s. This is the reason why the Diesel engine was never designed or planned as a coal-dust engine. [14] Only in December 1899, Diesel tested a coal-dust prototype, which used external mixture formation and liquid fuel pilot injection. [15] This engine proved to be functional, but suffered from piston ring failure after only very few minutes due to coal dust deposition. [16]

Since the 20th Century

Before diesel fuel had been standardised, diesel engines typically ran on cheap fuel oils. In the United States, these were distilled from petroleum, whereas in Europe, coal-tar creosote oil was used. Some diesel engines were even fuelled with mixtures of several different fuels, such as petrol, kerosine, rapeseed oil, or lubricating oil, because they were untaxed and thus cheap. [17] The introduction of motor-vehicle diesel engines, such as the Mercedes-Benz OM 138, in the 1930s meant that higher quality fuels with proper ignition characteristics were needed. However, at first, no improvements were made to motor-vehicle diesel fuel quality. Eventually, after World War II, the first modern high quality diesel fuels were standardised. These standards were, for instance, the DIN 51601, VTL 9140-001, and NATO F 54 standards. [18] In 1993, the DIN 51601 was rendered obsolete by the new EN 590 standard, which has been used in the European Union ever since. In sea-going watercraft, where diesel propulsion had gained prevalence by the late 1970s due to increasing fuel costs caused by the 1970s energy crisis, cheap heavy fuel oils are still used instead of conventional motor-vehicle diesel fuel. These heavy fuel oils (often called Bunker C) cannot only be used in diesel-powered, but also steam-powered vessels. [19]


Diesel fuel is produced from various sources, the most common being petroleum. Other sources include biomass, animal fat, biogas, natural gas, and coal liquefaction.

Petroleum diesel

A modern diesel dispenser Essodiesel.jpg
A modern diesel dispenser

Petroleum diesel, also called petrodiesel, [20] or fossil diesel is the most common type of diesel fuel. It is produced from the fractional distillation of crude oil between 200 and 350 °C (392 and 662 °F) at atmospheric pressure, resulting in a mixture of carbon chains that typically contain between 9 and 25 carbon atoms per molecule. [21]

Synthetic diesel

Synthetic diesel can be produced from any carbonaceous material, including biomass, biogas, natural gas, coal and many others. The raw material is gasified into synthesis gas, which after purification is converted by the Fischer–Tropsch process to a synthetic diesel. [22]

The process is typically referred to as biomass-to-liquid (BTL), gas-to-liquid (GTL) or coal-to-liquid (CTL), depending on the raw material used.

Paraffinic synthetic diesel generally has a near-zero content of sulfur and very low aromatics content, reducing unregulated emissions[ clarification needed ] of toxic hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides[ clarification needed ] and particulate matter (PM). [23]


Biodiesel made from soybean oil Bequer-B100-SOJA-SOYBEAM.jpg
Biodiesel made from soybean oil

Biodiesel is obtained from vegetable oil or animal fats (biolipids) which are mainly fatty acid methyl esters (FAME), and transesterified with methanol. It can be produced from many types of oils, the most common being rapeseed oil (rapeseed methyl ester, RME) in Europe and soybean oil (soy methyl ester, SME) in the US. Methanol can also be replaced with ethanol for the transesterification process, which results in the production of ethyl esters. The transesterification processes use catalysts, such as sodium or potassium hydroxide, to convert vegetable oil and methanol into biodiesel and the undesirable byproducts glycerine and water, which will need to be removed from the fuel along with methanol traces. Biodiesel can be used pure (B100) in engines where the manufacturer approves such use, but it is more often used as a mix with diesel, BXX where XX is the biodiesel content in percent. [24] [25]

FAME used as fuel is specified in DIN EN 14214 [26] and ASTM D6751 standards. [27]

Fuel equipment manufacturers (FIE) have raised several concerns regarding biodiesel, identifying FAME as being the cause of the following problems: corrosion of fuel injection components, low-pressure fuel system blockage, increased dilution and polymerization of engine sump oil, pump seizures due to high fuel viscosity at low temperature, increased injection pressure, elastomeric seal failures and fuel injector spray blockage. [28] Pure biodiesel has an energy content about 5–10% lower than petroleum diesel. [29] The loss in power when using pure biodiesel is 5–7%. [25]

Unsaturated fatty acids are the source for the lower oxidation stability; they react with oxygen and form peroxides and result in degradation byproducts, which can cause sludge and lacquer in the fuel system. [30]

As biodiesel contains low levels of sulfur, the emissions of sulfur oxides and sulfates, major components of acid rain, are low. Use of biodiesel also results in reductions of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide (CO), and particulate matter. CO emissions using biodiesel are substantially reduced, on the order of 50% compared to most petrodiesel fuels. The exhaust emissions of particulate matter from biodiesel have been found to be 30% lower than overall particulate matter emissions from petrodiesel. The exhaust emissions of total hydrocarbons (a contributing factor in the localized formation of smog and ozone) are up to 93% lower for biodiesel than diesel fuel.

Biodiesel also may reduce health risks associated with petroleum diesel. Biodiesel emissions showed decreased levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) and nitrated PAH compounds, which have been identified as potential carcinogens. In recent testing, PAH compounds were reduced by 75–85%, except for benz(a)anthracene, which was reduced by roughly 50%. Targeted nPAH compounds were also reduced dramatically with biodiesel fuel, with 2-nitrofluorene and 1-nitropyrene reduced by 90%, and the rest of the nPAH compounds reduced to only trace levels. [31]

Hydrogenated oils and fats

This category of diesel fuels involves converting the triglycerides in vegetable oil and animal fats into alkanes by refining and hydrogenation, such as H-Bio. The produced fuel has many properties that are similar to synthetic diesel, and are free from the many disadvantages of FAME.


Dimethyl ether, DME, is a synthetic, gaseous diesel fuel that results in clean combustion with very little soot and reduced NOx emissions. [24]


In the US, diesel is recommended to be stored in a yellow container to differentiate it from kerosene, which is typically kept in blue containers, and gasoline (= petrol), which is typically kept in red containers. [32] In the UK, diesel is normally stored in a black container, to differentiate it from unleaded petrol (which is commonly stored in a green container) and leaded petrol (which is stored in a red container). [33]


The diesel engine is a multifuel engine and can run on a huge variety of fuels. However, development of high-performance, high-speed diesel engines for cars and lorries in the 1930s meant that a proper fuel specificially designed for such engines was needed: diesel fuel. In order to ensure consistent quality, diesel fuel is standardised; the first standards were introduced after World War II. [18] Typically, a standard defines certain properties of the fuel, such as cetane number, density, flash point, sulphur content, or biodiesel content. Diesel fuel standards include:

Diesel fuel
Biodiesel fuel

Measurements and pricing

Cetane number

The principal measure of diesel fuel quality is its cetane number. A cetane number is a measure of the delay of ignition of a diesel fuel. [34] A higher cetane number indicates that the fuel ignites more readily when sprayed into hot compressed air. [34] European (EN 590 standard) road diesel has a minimum cetane number of 51. Fuels with higher cetane numbers, normally "premium" diesel fuels with additional cleaning agents and some synthetic content, are available in some markets.

Fuel value and price

About 86.1% of diesel fuel mass is carbon, and when burned, it offers a net heating value of 43.1 MJ/kg as opposed to 43.2 MJ/kg for gasoline. However, due to the higher density, diesel fuel offers a higher volumetric energy density: the density of EN 590 diesel fuel is defined as 0.820 to 0.845 kg/L (6.84 to 7.05 lb/US gal) at 15 °C (59 °F), about 9.0-13.9% more than EN 228 gasoline (petrol)'s 0.720–0.775 kg/L (6.01–6.47 lb/US gal) at 15 °C, which should be put into consideration when comparing volumetric fuel prices. The CO
emissions from diesel are 73.25 g/MJ, just slightly lower than for gasoline at 73.38 g/MJ. [35]

Diesel fuel is generally simpler to refine from petroleum than gasoline, and contains hydrocarbons having a boiling point in the range of 180–360 °C (356–680 °F). Additional refining is required to remove sulfur, which contributes to a sometimes higher cost. In many parts of the United States and throughout the United Kingdom and Australia, [36] diesel fuel may be priced higher than petrol. [37] [ clarification needed ] Reasons for higher-priced diesel include the shutdown of some refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, diversion of mass refining capacity to gasoline production, and a recent transfer to ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD), which causes infrastructural complications. [38] In Sweden, a diesel fuel designated as MK-1 (class 1 environmental diesel) is also being sold; this is a ULSD that also has a lower aromatics content, with a limit of 5%. [39] This fuel is slightly more expensive to produce than regular ULSD. In Germany, the fuel tax on diesel fuel is about 28 % lower than the petrol fuel tax.


Diesel fuel is very similar to heating oil, which is used in central heating. In Europe, the United States, and Canada, taxes on diesel fuel are higher than on heating oil due to the fuel tax, and in those areas, heating oil is marked with fuel dyes and trace chemicals to prevent and detect tax fraud. "Untaxed" diesel (sometimes called "off-road diesel" or "red diesel" due to its red dye) is available in some countries for use primarily in agricultural applications, such as fuel for tractors, recreational and utility vehicles or other noncommercial vehicles that do not use public roads. This fuel may have sulfur levels that exceed the limits for road use in some countries (e.g. US).

This untaxed diesel is dyed red for identification, [40] and using this untaxed diesel fuel for a typically taxed purpose (such as driving use), the user can be fined (e.g. US$10,000 in the US). In the United Kingdom, Belgium and the Netherlands, it is known as red diesel (or gas oil), and is also used in agricultural vehicles, home heating tanks, refrigeration units on vans/trucks which contain perishable items such as food and medicine and for marine craft. Diesel fuel, or marked gas oil is dyed green in the Republic of Ireland and Norway. The term "diesel-engined road vehicle" (DERV) is used in the UK as a synonym for unmarked road diesel fuel. In India, taxes on diesel fuel are lower than on petrol, as the majority of the transportation for grain and other essential commodities across the country runs on diesel.

Taxes on biodiesel in the US vary between states; some states (Texas, for example) have no tax on biodiesel and a reduced tax on biodiesel blends equivalent to the amount of biodiesel in the blend, so that B20 fuel is taxed 20% less than pure petrodiesel. [41] Other states, such as North Carolina, tax biodiesel (in any blended configuration) the same as petrodiesel, although they have introduced new incentives to producers and users of all biofuels. [42]


Diesel fuel is mostly used in high-speed diesel engines, especially motor-vehicle (e.g. car, lorry) diesel engines, but not all diesel engines run on diesel fuel. For example, large two-stroke watercraft engines typically use heavy fuel oils instead of diesel fuel, [19] and certain types of diesel engines, such as MAN M-System engines, are designed to run on petrol with knock resistances of up to 86 RON. [43] On the other hand, gas turbine and some other types of internal combustion engines, and external combustion engines, can also be designed to take diesel fuel.

The viscosity requirement of diesel fuel is usually specified at 40 °C. [34] A disadvantage of diesel fuel in cold climates is that its viscosity increases as the temperature decreases, changing it into a gel (see Compression Ignition – Gelling) that cannot flow in fuel systems. Special low-temperature diesel contains additives to keep it liquid at lower temperatures.

On-road vehicles

Trucks and buses, which were often otto-powered in the 1920s through 1950s, are now almost exclusively diesel-powered. Due to its ignition characteristics, diesel fuel is thus widely used in these vehicles. Since diesel fuel is not well-suited for otto engines, passenger cars, which often use otto or otto-derived engines, typically run on petrol instead of diesel fuel. However, especially in Europe and India, many passenger cars have, due to better engine efficiency, [44] diesel engines, and thus run on regular diesel fuel.


Diesel displaced coal and fuel oil for steam-powered vehicles in the latter half of the 20th century, and is now used almost exclusively for the combustion engines of self-powered rail vehicles (locomotives and railcars). [45] [46]


Packard DR-980 9-cylinder diesel aircraft engine, used in the first diesel-engine airplane Packard DR-980 USAF.jpg
Packard DR-980 9-cylinder diesel aircraft engine, used in the first diesel-engine airplane

In general, diesel engines are not well-suited for planes and helicopters. This is because of the diesel engine's comparatively low power-to-mass ratio, meaning that diesel engines are typically rather heavy, which is a disadvantage in aircraft. Therefore, there is little need for using diesel fuel in aircraft, and diesel fuel is not commercially used as aviation fuel. Instead, petrol (Avgas), and jet fuel (e. g. Jet A-1) are used. However, especially in the 1920s and 1930s, numerous series-production aircraft diesel engines that ran on fuel oils were made, because they had several advantages: their fuel consumption was low, they were reliable, not prone to catching fire, and required minimal maintenance. The introduction of petrol direct injection in the 1930s outweighed these advantages, and aircraft diesel engines quickly fell out of use. [47] With improvements in power-to-mass ratios of diesel engines, several on-road diesel engines have been converted to and certified for aircraft use since the early 21st century. These engines typically run on Jet A-1 aircraft fuel (but can also run on diesel fuel). Jet A-1 has ignition characteristics similar to diesel fuel, and is thus suited for certain (but not all) diesel engines. [48]

Military vehicles

Until World War II, several military vehicles, especially those that required high engine performance (armored fighting vehicles, for example the M26 Pershing or Panther tanks), used conventional otto engines and thus ran on petrol. Ever since World War II, several military vehicles with diesel engines have been made, capable of running on diesel fuel. This is because diesel engines are more fuel efficient, and diesel fuel is less prone to catching fire. [49] However, some of these diesel-powered vehicles (such as the Leopard 1 or MAN 630) still ran on petrol, and some military vehicles were still made with otto engines (e. g. Ural-375 or Unimog 404), incapable of running on diesel fuel.

Tractors and heavy equipment

Today's tractors and heavy equipment are mostly diesel-powered. Among tractors, only the smaller classes may also offer gasoline-fuelled engines. The dieselization of tractors and heavy equipment began in Germany before World War II but was unusual in the United States until after that war. During the 1950s and 1960s, it progressed in the US as well. Diesel fuel is commonly used in oil and gas extracting equipment, though some places use electric or natural gas powered equipment.

Tractors and heavy equipment were often multifuel in the 1920s through 1940s, running either spark-ignition and low-compression engines, akryod engines, or diesel engines. Thus many farm tractors of the era could burn gasoline, alcohol, kerosene, and any light grade of fuel oil such as heating oil, or tractor vaporising oil, according to whichever was most affordable in any region at any given time. On U.S. farms during this era, the name "distillate" often referred to any of the aforementioned light fuel oils. Spark ignition engines did not start as well on distillate, so typically a small auxiliary gasoline tank was used for cold starting, and the fuel valves were adjusted several minutes later, after warm-up, to switch to distillate. Engine accessories such as vaporizers and radiator shrouds were also used, both with the aim of capturing heat, because when such an engine was run on distillate, it ran better when both it and the air it inhaled were warmer rather than at ambient temperature. Dieselization with dedicated diesel engines (high-compression with mechanical fuel injection and compression ignition) replaced such systems and made more efficient use of the diesel fuel being burned.

Other uses

Poor quality diesel fuel has been used as an extraction agent for liquid–liquid extraction of palladium from nitric acid mixtures. [50] Such use has been proposed as a means of separating the fission product palladium from PUREX raffinate which comes from used nuclear fuel. [50] In this system of solvent extraction, the hydrocarbons of the diesel act as the diluent while the dialkyl sulfides act as the extractant. [50] This extraction operates by a solvation mechanism. [50] So far, neither a pilot plant nor full scale plant has been constructed to recover palladium, rhodium or ruthenium from nuclear wastes created by the use of nuclear fuel. [51]

Diesel fuel is also often used as the main ingredient in oil-base mud drilling fluid. [52] The advantage of using diesel is its low cost and its ability to drill a wide variety of difficult strata, including shale, salt and gypsum formations. [52] Diesel-oil mud is typically mixed with up to 40% brine water. [53] Due to health, safety and environmental concerns, Diesel-oil mud is often replaced with vegetable, mineral, or synthetic food-grade oil-base drilling fluids, although diesel-oil mud is still in widespread use in certain regions. [54]

During development of rocket engines in Germany during World War II J-2 Diesel fuel was used as the fuel component in several engines including the BMW 109-718. [55] J-2 diesel fuel was also used as a fuel for gas turbine engines. [55]

Chemical analysis

Chemical composition

Diesel does not mix with water. Dieselrainbow.jpg
Diesel does not mix with water.

In the United States, petroleum-derived diesel is composed of about 75% saturated hydrocarbons (primarily paraffins including n, iso, and cycloparaffins), and 25% aromatic hydrocarbons (including naphthalenes and alkylbenzenes). [56] The average chemical formula for common diesel fuel is C12H23, ranging approximately from C10H20 to C15H28. [57]

Chemical properties

Most diesel fuels freeze at common winter temperatures, while the temperatures greatly vary. [58] Petrodiesel typically freezes around temperatures of −8.1 °C (17.5 °F), whereas biodiesel freezes between temperatures of 2° to 15 °C (35° to 60 °F). [58] The viscosity of diesel noticeably increases as the temperature decreases, changing it into a gel at temperatures of −19 °C (−2.2 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F), that cannot flow in fuel systems. Conventional diesel fuels vaporise at temperatures between 149 °C and 371 °C. [34]

Conventional diesel flash points vary between 52 and 96 °C, which makes it safer than petrol and unsuitable for spark-ignition engines. [59] Unlike petrol, the flash point of a diesel fuel has no relation to its performance in an engine nor to its auto ignition qualities. [34]


Environment hazards of sulfur

In the past, diesel fuel contained higher quantities of sulfur. European emission standards and preferential taxation have forced oil refineries to dramatically reduce the level of sulfur in diesel fuels. In the European Union, the sulfur content has dramatically reduced during the last 20 years. Automotive diesel fuel is covered in the European Union by standard EN 590. In the 1990s specifications allowed a content of 2000 ppm max of sulfur, reduced to a limit of 350 ppm by the beginning of the 21st century with the introduction of Euro 3 specifications. The limit was lowered with the introduction of Euro 4 by 2006 to 50 ppm (ULSD, Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel). The standard for diesel fuel in force in Europe as of 2009 is the Euro 5, with a maximum content of 10 ppm. [60]

Emission standardAt latestSulfur contentCetane number
Euro 11 January 1993max. 2000 ppmmin. 49
Euro 21 January 1996max. 500 ppmmin. 49
Euro 31 January 2001max. 350 ppmmin. 51
Euro 41. January 2006max. 50 ppmmin. 51
Euro 51 January 2009max. 10 ppmmin. 51

In the United States, more stringent emission standards have been adopted with the transition to ULSD starting in 2006, and becoming mandatory on June 1, 2010 (see also diesel exhaust).

Algae, microbes, and water contamination

There has been much discussion and misunderstanding of algae in diesel fuel. Algae need light to live and grow. As there is no sunlight in a closed fuel tank, no algae can survive, but some microbes can survive and feed on the diesel fuel. [61]

These microbes form a colony that lives at the interface of fuel and water. They grow quite fast in warmer temperatures. They can even grow in cold weather when fuel tank heaters are installed. Parts of the colony can break off and clog the fuel lines and fuel filters. [62]

Water in fuel can damage a fuel injection pump; some diesel fuel filters also trap water. Water contamination in diesel fuel can lead to freezing while in the fuel tank. The freezing water that saturates the fuel will sometimes clog the fuel injector pump. [63] Once the water inside the fuel tank has started to freeze, gelling is more likely to occur. When the fuel is gelled it is not effective until the temperature is raised and the fuel returns to a liquid state.

Road hazard

Diesel is less flammable than gasoline / petrol. However, because it evaporates slowly, any spills on a roadway can pose a slip hazard to vehicles. [64] After the light fractions have evaporated, a greasy slick is left on the road which reduces tire grip and traction, and can cause vehicles to skid. The loss of traction is similar to that encountered on black ice, resulting in especially dangerous situations for two-wheeled vehicles, such as motorcycles and bicycles, in roundabouts.

See also

Related Research Articles

Diesel engine Type of internal combustion engine

The diesel engine, named after Rudolf Diesel, is an internal combustion engine in which ignition of the fuel is caused by the elevated temperature of the air in the cylinder due to the mechanical compression; thus, the diesel engine is a so-called compression-ignition engine. This contrasts with engines using spark plug-ignition of the air-fuel mixture, such as a petrol engine or a gas engine.

Gasoline Transparent, petroleum-derived liquid that is used primarily as a fuel

Gasoline or petrol is a transparent, petroleum-derived flammable liquid that is used primarily as a fuel in most spark-ignited internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. On average, a 160-liter (42-U.S.-gallon) barrel of crude oil can yield up to about 72 liters of gasoline after processing in an oil refinery, depending on the crude oil assay and on what other refined products are also extracted. The characteristic of a particular gasoline blend to resist igniting too early is measured by its octane rating, which is produced in several grades. Tetraethyl lead and other lead compounds, once widely used to increase octane rating, are no longer used in most areas. Other chemicals are frequently added to gasoline to improve chemical stability and performance characteristics, control corrosiveness, and provide fuel system cleaning. Gasoline may contain oxygenating (oxygen-enhancing) chemicals such as ethanol, MTBE, or ETBE to improve combustion.

Rudolf Diesel German inventor and mechanical engineer (1858-1913)

Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel was a German inventor and mechanical engineer, famous for the invention of the Diesel engine. Diesel was the namesake of the 1942 film Diesel.

Biofuel Type of biological fuel produced from biomass from which energy is derived

Biofuel is fuel that is produced through contemporary processes from biomass, rather than by the very slow geological processes involved in the formation of fossil fuels, such as oil. Since biomass technically can be used as a fuel directly, some people use the terms biomass and biofuel interchangeably. More often than not, however, the word biomass simply denotes the biological raw material the fuel is made of, or some form of thermally/chemically altered solid end product, like torrefied pellets or briquettes.


Biodiesel is a form of diesel fuel derived from plants or animals and consisting of long-chain fatty acid esters. It is typically made by chemically reacting lipids such as animal fat (tallow), soybean oil, or some other vegetable oil with an alcohol, producing a methyl, ethyl or propyl ester.

Liquefied petroleum gas Fuel for heating, cooking and vehicles

Liquefied petroleum gas, is a flammable mixture of hydrocarbon gases such as propane and butane.

RP-1 Highly refined form of kerosene used as rocket fuel

RP-1 (alternatively, Rocket Propellant-1 or Refined Petroleum-1) is a highly refined form of kerosene outwardly similar to jet fuel, used as rocket fuel. RP-1 provides a lower specific impulse than liquid hydrogen (LH2), but is cheaper, is stable at room temperature, and presents a lower explosion hazard. RP-1 is far denser than LH2, giving it a higher energy density (though its specific energy is lower). RP-1 also has a fraction of the toxicity and carcinogenic hazards of hydrazine, another room-temperature liquid fuel.

Fuel oil Petroleum product burned to generate power

Fuel oil is a fraction obtained from petroleum distillation. It includes distillates - the lighter fractions, and residues - the heavier fractions.

Liquid fuel

Liquid fuels are combustible or energy-generating molecules that can be harnessed to create mechanical energy, usually producing kinetic energy; they also must take the shape of their container. It is the fumes of liquid fuels that are flammable instead of the fluid. Most liquid fuels in widespread use are derived from fossil fuels; however, there are several types, such as hydrogen fuel, ethanol, and biodiesel, which are also categorized as a liquid fuel. Many liquid fuels play a primary role in transportation and the economy.

Exhaust gas Gases emitted as a result of fuel reactions in combustion engines

Exhaust gas or flue gas is emitted as a result of the combustion of fuels such as natural gas, gasoline (petrol), diesel fuel, fuel oil, biodiesel blends, or coal. According to the type of engine, it is discharged into the atmosphere through an exhaust pipe, flue gas stack, or propelling nozzle. It often disperses downwind in a pattern called an exhaust plume.

Cetane number is an indicator of the combustion speed of diesel fuel and compression needed for ignition. It plays a similar role for diesel as octane rating does for gasoline. The CN is an important factor in determining the quality of diesel fuel, but not the only one; other measurements of diesel fuel's quality include energy content, density, lubricity, cold-flow properties and sulphur content.

Ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) is diesel fuel with substantially lowered sulfur content. Since 2006, almost all of the petroleum-based diesel fuel available in Europe and North America has been of a ULSD type.

Vegetable oil can be used as an alternative fuel in diesel engines and in heating oil burners. When vegetable oil is used directly as a fuel, in either modified or unmodified equipment, it is referred to as straight vegetable oil (SVO) or pure plant oil (PPO). Conventional diesel engines can be modified to help ensure that the viscosity of the vegetable oil is low enough to allow proper atomization of the fuel. This prevents incomplete combustion, which would damage the engine by causing a build-up of carbon. Straight vegetable oil can also be blended with conventional diesel or processed into biodiesel, HVO or bioliquids for use under a wider range of conditions.

Pyrolysis oil, sometimes also known as bio-crude or bio-oil, is a synthetic fuel under investigation as substitute for petroleum. It is obtained by heating dried biomass without oxygen in a reactor at a temperature of about 500 °C with subsequent cooling. Pyrolysis oil is a kind of tar and normally contains levels of oxygen too high to be considered a pure hydrocarbon. This high oxygen content results in non-volatility, corrosiveness, immiscibility with fossil fuels, thermal instability, and a tendency to polymerize when exposed to air. As such, it is distinctly different from petroleum products. Removing oxygen from bio-oil or nitrogen from algal bio-oil is known as upgrading.

Renewable fuels are fuels produced from renewable resources. Examples include: biofuels and Hydrogen fuel. This is in contrast to non-renewable fuels such as natural gas, LPG (propane), petroleum and other fossil fuels and nuclear energy. Renewable fuels can include fuels that are synthesized from renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. Renewable fuels have gained in popularity due to their sustainability, low contributions to the carbon cycle, and in some cases lower amounts of greenhouse gases. The geo-political ramifications of these fuels are also of interest, particularly to industrialized economies which desire independence from Middle Eastern oil.

History of the internal combustion engine

Various scientists and engineers contributed to the development of internal combustion engines. In 1791, John Barber developed a turbine. In 1794 Thomas Mead patented a gas engine. Also in 1794 Robert Street patented an internal-combustion engine, which was also the first to use the liquid fuel (petroleum) and built an engine around that time. In 1798, John Stevens designed the first American internal combustion engine. In 1807, French engineers Nicéphore and Claude Niépce ran a prototype internal combustion engine, using controlled dust explosions, the Pyréolophore. This engine powered a boat on the Saône river, France. The same year, the Swiss engineer François Isaac de Rivaz built and patented a hydrogen and oxygen powered internal-combustion engine. The fuel was stored in a balloon and the spark was electrically ignited by a hand-operated trigger. Fitted to a crude four-wheeled wagon, François Isaac de Rivaz first drove it 100 meters in 1813, thus making history as the first car-like vehicle known to have been powered by an internal-combustion engine. In 1823, Samuel Brown patented the first internal combustion engine to be applied industrially in the U.S., one of his engines pumped water on the Croydon Canal from 1830 to 1836. He also demonstrated a boat using his engine on the Thames in 1827, and an engine-driven carriage in 1828. Father Eugenio Barsanti, an Italian engineer, together with Felice Matteucci of Florence invented the first real internal combustion engine in 1853. Their patent request was granted in London on June 12, 1854, and published in London's Morning Journal under the title "Specification of Eugene Barsanti and Felix Matteucci, Obtaining Motive Power by the Explosion of Gasses". In 1860, Belgian Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir produced a gas-fired internal combustion engine. In 1864, Nicolaus Otto patented the first atmospheric gas engine. In 1872, American George Brayton invented the first commercial liquid-fueled internal combustion engine. In 1876, Nicolaus Otto, working with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, patented the compressed charge, four-stroke cycle engine. In 1879, Karl Benz patented a reliable two-stroke gas engine. In 1892, Rudolf Diesel developed the first compressed charge, a compression ignition engine. In 1926, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket. In 1939, the Heinkel He 178 became the world's first jet aircraft. In 1954 German engineer Felix Wankel patented a "pistonless" engine using an eccentric rotary design.

Petroleum refining processes

Petroleum refining processes are the chemical engineering processes and other facilities used in petroleum refineries to transform crude oil into useful products such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), gasoline or petrol, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel oil and fuel oils.

Air-blast injection

Air-blast injection is a historical direct injection system for Diesel engines. Unlike modern designs, air-blast injected Diesel engines do not have an injection pump. A simple low-pressure fuel-feed-pump is used instead to supply the injection nozzle with fuel. At injection, a blast of compressed air presses the fuel into the combustion chamber, hence the name air-blast injection. The compressed air comes from compressed-air tanks which feed the injection nozzle. A large crankshaft-driven compressor is used to re-fill these tanks; the size of the compressor and the low rotational frequency of the engine's crankshaft means that air-blast injected Diesel engines are huge in size and mass, this, combined with the problem that air-blast injection does not allow for quick load alteration makes it only suitable for stationary applications and watercraft. Before the invention of precombustion chamber injection, air-blast injection was the only way a properly working internal air fuel mixture system could be built, required for a Diesel engine. During the 1920s, air-blast injection was rendered obsolete by superior injection system designs that allowed much smaller but more powerful engines. Rudolf Diesel was granted a patent on air-blast injection in November 1893.

Internal combustion engine Engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber

An internal combustion engine (ICE) is a heat engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion applies direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, a rotor, or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful work. This replaced the external combustion engine for applications where weight or size of the engine is important.

Motor 250/400 Motor vehicle engine

The Motor 250/400 is the first functional Diesel engine. It was designed by Rudolf Diesel, and drawn by Imanuel Lauster. The workshop of the Maschinenfabrik Augsburg built two units, the A-Motor, and the B-Motor. The former has been on static display at the German Museum in München since testing it came to an end. Throughout the late 1890s, several licensed copies of the Motor 250/400 were made. Most of these copies were very unreliable, which almost caused the Diesel engine's demise.


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Further reading