Patent of the Month February
130th anniversary of the diesel engine!
Celebrated as both persistent and inexpensive, the robust diesel engine still enjoys great popularity despite problems with fine dust pollution in inner-city traffic. On 23 February in 1893, the German engineer Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913) received the patent for the most economical combustion engine to date. With its high efficiency it gets more energy out of the fuel than any other engine. In view of the climate crisis, the future of combustion engines is uncertain. What is certain is that Rudolf Diesel came up with an epoch-making invention 130 years ago, although it did not bring him much luck personally. For our Patent of the Month February, we pay tribute to his great inventive spirit with the first patent of the diesel engine (DE000000067207A), describing Diesels’ basic idea rather than the principal of today’s version.
Born in Paris in 1858, the highly gifted student and graduate of the Royal Bavarian Technical University in Munich was early preoccupied with the idea of converting heat into energy or work. His goal was to design an "ideal" heat engine with higher efficiency according to the theories of the French physicist Sadi Carnot. By increasingly compressing the air in a reciprocating engine, he arrived at the principle of self-ignition, thereby eliminating the need for electrical ignition as required in the petrol or Otto engine. In 1892, Diesel applied for a patent for his invention in Germany under the title "Working method and construction for internal combustion engines". However, by summer 1893, he realised that his initial theory was erroneous, leading him to file another patent application for the corrected theory that same year. At this time, no design drawing or prototype existed, however, with further developments still necessary for a functioning diesel engine.
After the patent was granted, the inventor therefore turned to potential producers and found a sponsor in “Maschinenfabrik Augsburg” - now MAN - which enabled him to build his engine. It took four more years until, in 1897, the diesel engine could finally be brought to fruition, albeit still powered by simple lamp petroleum. One year later the diesel engine factory was founded. From then on, “the diesel” began its triumphal march: the engine was used in motor vehicles and shipping, in heavy industry and in a wide variety of machines. The main reason for this is its still unrivalled efficiency of around 26 percent, a record at the time. To this day, no other engine type utilises fuel as well as the diesel engine!
The engine was awarded with the “Grand Prix” at the world exhibition in 1900, while in 1903 Rudolf Diesel was one of the founders of the “German Museum” in Munich. The Patent and Standardisation Centre hopes that your ideas will be powered by a strong engine!However, the successful inventor - as happens so often - was not a businessman. The construction of an expensive villa, speculative transactions and patent litigations got him into trouble. He suffered a nervous breakdown due to chronic exhaustion in 1898, and even spent some time in the Neuwittelsbach sanatorium near Munich. It was not until 1908, after the expiry of the patent terms, that Diesel was able to continue work on the further development of his engine.
Unfortunately, he did not live to see the worldwide breakthrough of his invention. In 1913, Diesel embarked on a sea voyage to England with business friends. On arrival in Harwich, however, he was no longer on board, his cabin found empty, the bed unused. Two weeks later, his remains were found in the sea. To this day, his demise remains mysterious, the exact circumstances of his death have never been clarified. Letters suggest suicide, but there are no certainties.
With his invention, Rudolf Diesel created an internal combustion engine that is still unsurpassed in efficiency today and thus the basis for the development of diesel vehicles. The diesel engine has become an important part of the transport industry, with modern versions achieving an efficiency of around fifty percent, i.e. remaining much more efficient than gasoline engines - just as Rudolf Diesel had imagined.
The Patent and Standardisation Centre hopes that your ideas will be powered by a strong engine!
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