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March 17, 2020   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

How Rudolph Diesel Changed the World

Imagine Diesel's wonderment seeing how his hulking 10-foot tall cast iron single cylinder apparatus is now transformed into today’s modern engines sporting 2-16 cylinders delivering 5 hp to over 10,000 hp.


If historic figures could be time travelers, then March 18 would be Rudolph Diesel’s day. His birth 162 years ago led to a namesake technology that has continued to change the world for over a century. Over 130 years ago his first published works, “Theory and Construction of a Rational Heat Motor” was where it all began.

If he came back today, what would he think?

Imagine the wonderment seeing how his hulking 10-foot tall cast iron single cylinder apparatus is now transformed into today’s modern engines sporting 2-16 cylinders delivering 5 hp to over 10,000 hp.

First Diesel Engine 

As a mechanical engineer he would marvel at advancements that doubled the thermal efficiency of his patented engine, from just over 26 percent at the time of his death and today demonstrated at over 50 percent. He would be astounded at today’s engine power output and performance capabilities inherent in his original concept, amazed at the extreme pressures in fuel injection systems and how novel turbocharging air intake into his engine really was. 

He would be fascinated how petroleum fuels built our global economy and where and how renewable bio-based fuels are still in the spotlight, only growing and enhancing the sustainability of his trademark technology. 

He would be equally amazed at how climate and clean air concerns have come to influence the direction of the diesel and technology that makes engine exhaust clean, the emission control devices, systems and filers and catalysts. 

Considering that Diesel’s initial vision was that his invention would serve artisans and small businesses, he would be humbled by how his simple technology instead evolved to be the dominant motive power source for an amazing assortment of industrial engines, vehicles, equipment and vessels around the world, large and small; the energy needed for building, planting, moving and hauling.    

Diesel’s engine and technology makes progress possible still today, with continuous improvements in efficiency, power and lower emissions.  It brings power and light to darkness and stillness in ways that have transformed work and the world.   

In an interesting twist, it turns out that Rudolph Diesel’s interests went beyond motors and fuels. He even received a patent on a solar-powered air engine, which makes him a more interesting pioneer of energy and technology than we may ever have known, a man before his time.     



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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy
efinkin@dieselforum.org
301-668-7230

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