Reciprocating piston engines are by far the most common power source for land and water vehicles, including automobiles, motorcycles, ships and to a lesser extent, locomotives (some are electrical but most use Diesel engines45). Rotary engines of the Wankel design are used in some automobiles, aircraft and motorcycles.
Where very high power-to-weight ratios are required, internal combustion engines appear in the form of combustion turbines or Wankel engines. Powered aircraft typically uses an ICE which may be a reciprocating engine. Airplanes can instead use jet engines and helicopters can instead employ turboshafts; both of which are types of turbines. In addition to providing propulsion, airliners may employ a separate ICE as an auxiliary power unit. Wankel engines are fitted to many unmanned aerial vehicles.
Big Diesel generator used for backup power
Combined cycle power plant
ICEs drive some of the large electric generators that power electrical grids. They are found in the form of combustion turbines in combined cycle power plants with a typical electrical output in the range of 100 MW to 1 GW. The high temperature exhaust is used to boil and superheat water to run a steam turbine. Thus, the efficiency is higher because more energy is extracted from the fuel than what could be extracted by the combustion turbine alone. In combined cycle power plants efficiencies in the range of 50% to 60% are typical. In a smaller scale Diesel generators are used for backup power and for providing electrical power to areas not connected to an electric grid.
Small engines (usually 2?stroke gasoline engines) are a common power source for lawnmowers, string trimmers, chain saws, leafblowers, pressure washers, snowmobiles, jet skis, outboard motors, mopeds, and motorcycles.
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Diagram of uniflow scavenging
Using a separate blower avoids many of the shortcomings of crankcase scavenging, at the expense of increased complexity which means a higher cost and an increase in maintenance requirement. An engine of this type uses ports or valves for intake and valves for exhaust, except opposed piston engines, which may also use ports for exhaust. The blower is usually of the Roots-type but other types have been used too. This design is commonplace in CI engines, and has been occasionally used in SI engines.
CI engines that use a blower typically use uniflow scavenging. In this design the cylinder wall contains several intake ports placed uniformly spaced along the circumference just above the position that the piston crown reaches when at BDC. An exhaust valve or several like that of 4-stroke engines is used. The final part of the intake manifold is an air sleeve which feeds the intake ports. The intake ports are placed at an horizontal angle to the cylinder wall (I.e: they are in plane of the piston crown) to give a swirl to the incoming charge to improve combustion. The largest reciprocating IC are low speed CI engines of this type; they are used for marine propulsion (see marine diesel engine) or electric power generation and achieve the highest thermal efficiencies among internal combustion engines of any kind. Some Diesel-electric locomotive engines operate on the 2-stroke cycle. The most powerful of them have a brake power of around 4.5 MW or 6,000 HP. The EMD SD90MAC class of locomotives use a 2-stroke engine. The comparable class GE AC6000CW whose prime mover has almost the same brake power uses a 4-stroke engine.
An example of this type of engine is the Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96-C turbocharged 2-stroke Diesel, used in large container ships. It is the most efficient and powerful internal combustion engine in the world with a thermal efficiency over 50%.9101112 For comparison, the most efficient small four-stroke engines are around 43% thermally-efficient (SAE 900648);citation needed size is an advantage for efficiency due to the increase in the ratio of volume to surface area.
See the external links for a in-cylinder combustion video in a 2-stroke, optically accessible motorcycle engine.