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An internal combustion engine (ICE) is a heat engine where the combustion of a 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, the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion applies direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, rotor or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful mechanical energy.
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The first commercially successful internal combustion engine was created by Étienne Lenoir around 1859 and the first modern internal combustion engine was created in 1876 by Nikolaus Otto (see Otto engine).
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. Firearms are also a form of internal combustion engine.
In contrast, in external combustion engines, such as steam or Stirling engines, energy is delivered to a working fluid not consisting of, mixed with, or contaminated by combustion products. Working fluids can be air, hot water, pressurised water or even liquid sodium, heated in a boiler. ICEs are usually powered by energy-dense fuels such as gasoline or diesel, liquids derived from fossil fuels. While there are many stationary applications, most ICEs are used in mobile applications and are the dominant power supply for vehicles such as cars, aircraft, and boats.
Typically an ICE is fed with fossil fuels like natural gas or petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel fuel or fuel oil. There is a growing usage of renewable fuels like biodiesel for compression ignition engines and bioethanol or methanol for spark ignition engines. Hydrogen is sometimes used, and can be obtained from either fossil fuels or renewable energy.
Various scientists and engineers contributed to the development of internal combustion engines. In 1791, John Barber developed a turbine. In 1794 Thomas Mead patented a Gas Engine. Also in 1794 Robert Street patented an internal combustion engine, which was also the first to use liquid fuel, and built an engine around that time. In 1798, John Stevens built the first American internal combustion engine. In 1807, Swiss engineer François Isaac de Rivaz built an internal combustion engine ignited by an electric spark. In 1823, Samuel Brown patented the first internal combustion engine to be applied industrially.
In 1854 in the UK, the Italian inventors Eugenio Barsanti and Felice Matteucci tried to patent "Obtaining motive power by the explosion of gases", although the application did not progress to the granted stage. In 1860, Belgian Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir produced a gas-fired internal combustion engine. In 1864, Nikolaus Otto patented the first atmospheric gas engine. In 1872, American George Brayton invented the first commercial liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine. In 1876, Nikolaus Otto, working with Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, patented the compressed charge, four-cycle engine. In 1879, Karl Benz patented a reliable two-stroke gas engine. In 1892, Rudolf Diesel developed the first compressed charge, compression ignition engine. In 1926, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket. In 1939, the Heinkel He 178 became the world's first jet aircraft.