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Rudolf Diesel was born in Paris in 1858. His parents were Bavarian immigrants; he was educated at Munich Polytechnic. After graduation he was employed as a refrigeration engineer. However, his true love lay in engine design. He envisioned an engine in which air is compressed to such a degree that there is an extreme rise in temperature. When fuel is injected into the piston chamber with this air, the high temperature of the air ignites the fuel, forcing the piston down. Diesel designed his engine in response to the heavy resource consumption and inefficiency of the steam engine, which only produced a brake thermal efficiency of 12%.

On February 27 1892, Diesel filed for a patent at the Imperial Patent Office in Germany. With contracts from Frederick Krupp, and other machine manufacturers, Diesel began experimenting and building working models of his engine. In 1893 the first model ran under its own power with 26% efficiency, remarkably more than double the efficiency of the steam engines of its day. Finally in February of 1897, at the Augsburg Machine-Works he developed a working engine, the first diesel engine suitable for practical use. During that time he had to do a lot more theoretical work and invention. In his view, he was still inventing the engine. People outside the process saw all that development as the dirty work one has to go through to make a good idea into a workable hardware, to run the first diesel engine suitable for practical use.

Diesel demonstrated his engine at the Exhibition Fair in Paris, in 1898. This engine stood as an example of Diesel's vision because it was fuelled by peanut oil – the “original” bio diesel. He thought that the utilization of a biomass fuel was the real future of his engine. Hoping that it would provide a way for the smaller industries, farmers, and “common folk” a means of competing with the monopolizing industries, which controlled all energy at the time, as well as serve as an alternative for the inefficient fuel consumption of the steam engine. As a result of Diesel's vision, compression ignited engines were powered by a biomass fuel, vegetable oil, until the 1920's and are being powered again today, by bio diesel. After this, Diesel thought he was finished, and turned to promoting the engine. But it was still woefully unready for the market. It needed eleven more years of improvement. Meanwhile, Diesel worked himself into a nervous breakdown promoting the not-yet-ready engine.

The early diesel engines were not small enough or light enough for anything but stationary use due to the size of the fuel injection pump. They were produced primarily for industry and shipping in the early 1900's. Ships and submarines benefited greatly from the efficiency of this new engine, which was slowly beginning to gain popularity.

Rudolf Diesel literally disappeared in 1913 and even today his death is an enigma. Some think it might have been accidental, or even suicide. However, others considered a possible political motivation. Diesel did not agree with the politics of Germany and he was reluctant to see his engine used by their naval fleet. With his political support directed towards France and Britain, he was perhaps on his way to England to arrange for them to use his engine when he inexplicably disappeared over the side of the ship in the English Channel. Still others believe that the French may have been responsible. They may have been trying to keep the engine out of both the British and German hands. Whether by accident, suicide or at the hands of others, the world had lost a brilliant engineer and bio fuel visionary. It also opened the way for the German submarine fleet to be powered solely by his engines. The Wolf Packs, as they were to become known, inflicted heavy damage on Allied shipping during World War 1.

In an old 4th edition Diesel engine book, first published in 1912 and with an introduction by Diesel the English author ruefully says that Dr. Diesel's friendship was “more valued than he knew.” Diesel arrogantly asserts when he finished the first commercially successful engine in 1897, that few factories are good enough to build his engines, and that second rate makers should not even try.

There's no denying Dr. Rudolf Diesel was a visionary. He admitted, for example that his engine seems to threaten Britain's coal industry. But, he adds, we will soon know how to extract our diesel fuel from coal tar. We do not make much diesel fuel from coal tar today, but we certainly know how to do so--- any time we choose to. As we enter the 21st Century, and we look to our future, our relationship with the oil industries and dependency on foreign oil, hopefully, we will drive us to explore alternatives with a more open mind. Experiments and a willingness to change in a positive direction or maybe it is to revert back to the original vision of Rudolf Diesel and his engine


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