About this Article
Written by: Paul Moldovan
Written on: November 1st, 2010
Tags: chemical engineering, energy & sustainability, transportation
Thumbnail by: Matthias93/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
Paul Moldovan was a junior at the University of Southern California in Falll 2010. He majored in Electrical Engineering with an emphasis in Power Engineering.
Stay Connected

Volume XI Issue III > Diesel Engines: Is Old Technology Actually Green Technology?
Unbeknownst to many, the familiar diesel engine has potential for the implementation of clean diesel technology for use in the same way that hybrids are used today. From development and historical use of the diesel engine to the engineering principles by which the engine functions, diesel technology has evolved to meet the needs of a changing society. Today, in competition with hybrid engines, technological development of diesel engine is being explored in hopes in meet the needs of consumers in accordance with new regulations designed to protect the environment. In looking to the future, the improvement and expanded use of diesel-powered engines offer an innovative path towards a more sustainable world.

Demystifying Diesel

Recently, consumers have become more aware of the impact they have on the environment. Gone are the days of wastefulness without consciousness. In every store and with every purchase, consumers are reminded to “be green”. This green initiative is a global effort to combat the negative effects that the human lifestyle has on the global environment. Being green may refer to recycling papers and plastic, using earth-friendly products that don’t harm the environment, or driving cars with high gas mileage and low emissions. For decades the aim of the auto industry was to build bigger, more powerful cars to fulfill the demand of consumers. These cars, with big engines, low gas mileage, and high emissions, left a visible impact on the environment. Today consumer demand has shifted towards smaller, more fuel-efficient cars that have low emissions. The market has responded with hybrid cars, introducing a new competitor into the consumer market. One seemingly forgotten technology that can offer consumers everything hybrids can and possibly more is employed in diesel-powered cars. Diesel engines have long been touted as being too large, loud, and inefficient and have become infamous for the plume of soot and smoke that shoots out of the tailpipe upon starting. However, with new technology being developed in Europe, diesel engines are quickly becoming known for their new clean and more dependable nature. The fact that diesel-powered cars are sometimes cheaper than their gas or even hybrid counterparts may even be the best part about them and also the key to making the green movement a true global initiative.

Development of the Diesel Engine

In 1897, German engineer Rudolf Diesel developed the first working diesel engine. A year later Diesel was granted a patent and began manufacturing his engine in partnership with other companies. At first, the diesel engine was used mainly for boats and submarines. Since the diesel engine was more efficient than the gasoline engines of the time, it was the perfect substitute in various types of machinery. In 1922 the first vehicle, an agricultural tractor, was powered by a diesel engine built by Mercedes-Benz. A year later, trucks with diesel engines were built and the engine became a popular power-plant for automobiles [1]. Diesel engines provide a lot more power than their gas counterparts, so diesel-powered trucks became the automobile of choice to transport merchandise across the country. Due to this power advantage as well as the lower fuel consumption that diesel engines exhibited over gasoline engines, interest grew in the private market, and automobiles were built utilizing diesel technology. Diesel-powered cars and trucks became popular in Europe; however, they did not see the same success in the United States where diesel-powered vehicles were mostly only used for transportation of goods.
The economic growth experienced by many of the industrialized nations in the world after World War II was aided by the ability to transport merchandise cross-country relatively cheaply and efficiently. This, however, was done at the expense of the environment. Diesel engines were notorious for putting out a lot of smog and smoke and were considered the most pollutant automobile on the road. They were also extremely loud and on start-up were known to be clanky, which irritated motorists. In the early 2000’s new, stricter environmental regulations effectively caused all diesel engine car imports to the United States to fall to zero. This spurred many companies, such as Bosch and Mercedes-Benz, into action to create new clean diesel technology [2].