steam engine vs ic engine

Steam Engine Vs IC Engine

The steam engine and the internal combustion engine (IC engine) are two distinct types of engines that have played vital roles in different periods of history. In the 18th century, engineers invented the steam engine, which was one of the first practical engines to harness the power of steam. It was one of the key inventions of the industrial revolution and played a vital role in powering various industries, transportation systems, and machinery.
On the other hand, the internal combustion engine, particularly the gasoline engine, gained prevalence in the late 19th century. It has since remained the primary power source for automobiles, even to this day.

What is a steam engine?

Steam engine: A steam engine is a heat engine that uses steam as its working fluid to convert the heat energy of steam into mechanical energy.

Steam engines typically operate by heating water in a boiler, creating steam under high pressure. The pressurized steam directs into a cylinder where it expands, pushing a piston back and forth. The piston converts its reciprocating motion into rotational motion using a crankshaft, which powers machinery or propels locomotives and ships.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, steam engines found widespread use and had a significant impact on transportation, manufacturing, and power generation. They powered steam locomotives, steamboats, and early industrial machinery, driving the growth of railways and factories. However, with advancements in technology, the steam engine was eventually largely replaced by more efficient internal combustion engines and electric motors. Nonetheless, steam engines still find niche applications today. For instance, they are used to power steam-driven turbines in power plants and to propel steam-powered heritage trains.

Steam Engine
Fig: Steam Engine

What is an Internal combustion engine?

Internal combustion engine: IC engine stands for Internal Combustion Engine, which is a type of heat engine that uses the combustion of fuel to generate power. In an IC engine, the engine’s cylinders burn fuel, converting the generated heat into mechanical energy. The IC engine utilizes this mechanical energy to rotate a crankshaft, which in turn drives the wheels of a vehicle or powers a machine.

IC engines can be further classified into two main types based on their ignition system:

  1. Spark-Ignition Engines (SI engines): These engines use a spark plug to ignite the fuel-air mixture. They are commonly found in gasoline-powered vehicles.
  2. Compression-Ignition Engines (CI engines): These engines rely on the heat generated by compressing the air in the combustion chamber to ignite the fuel. They are commonly found in diesel-powered vehicles.
IC Engine
Fig: Internal Combustion Engine

Difference between Steam engine and Internal Combustion engine

Steam engineIC engine
Steam is produced in the boiler which goes to the engine and drives itFuel is burnt inside the combustion chamber of the engine
Less working pressure inside the engine2. Very high working pressure & temp inside the engine (components needs to be much more sturdy)
Efficiency, η=12% to 18%3. Efficiency, η=36% to 42%
Long & tedious process4. Can be started instantaneously
High weight to power ratio5. Less weight to power ratio
Large size6. Compact size

Q: Why do we prefer an IC engine over a steam engine?

IC engines are generally preferred over steam engines in many modern applications for the following reasons:

  1. Higher power-to-weight ratio: IC engines have a higher power-to-weight ratio compared to steam engines. This means that they can generate more power relative to their weight and size, making them more efficient and easier to install in smaller spaces.
  2. More responsive: IC engines can start and stop quickly and respond rapidly to changes in power demand. On the other hand, steam engines exhibit a slower response time compared to other engines. Additionally, they require more time to heat up and build steam pressure.
  3. Lower fuel consumption: IC engines are generally more fuel-efficient than steam engines. This is because a lot of fuel is consumed to boil water and produce steam.
  4. Lower maintenance requirements: IC engines require less maintenance compared to steam engines. They have fewer moving parts and do not require water treatment and boiler maintenance, which can be expensive and time-consuming.


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Praneet Mehta

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