The internal combustion engine is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel (normally a fossil fuel) occurs with an oxidizer (usually air) in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine (ICE) the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful mechanical energy. The first commercially successful internal combustion engine was created by Étienne Lenoir.
The term internal combustion engine usually refers to an engine in which combustion is intermittent, such as the more familiar four-stroke and two-stroke piston engines, along with variants, such as the six-stroke piston engine and the Wankel rotary engine. A second class of internal combustion engines use continuous combustion: gas turbines, jet engines and most rocket engines, each of which are internal combustion engines on the same principle as previously described.
The ICE is quite different from external combustion engines, such as steam or Stirling engines, in which the energy is delivered to a working fluid not consisting of, mixed with, or contaminated by combustion products. Working fluids can be air, hot water, pressurized water or even liquid sodium, heated in some kind of boiler.
A large number of different designs for ICEs have been developed and built, with a variety of different strengths and weaknesses. Powered by an energy-dense fuel (which is very frequently gasoline, a liquid derived from fossil fuels). While there have been and still are many stationary applications, the real strength of internal combustion engines is in mobile applications and they dominate as a power supply for cars, aircraft, and boats.
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