Maximum efficiencies for internal combustion engines: Thermodynamic limitations Academic Article uri icon


  • The thermodynamic limitation for the maximum efficiencies of internal combustion engines is an important consideration for the design and development of future engines. Knowing these limits helps direct resources to those areas with the most potential for improvements. Using an engine cycle simulation which includes the first and second laws of thermodynamics, this study has determined the fundamental thermodynamics that are responsible for these limits. This work has considered an automotive engine and has quantified the maximum efficiencies starting with the most ideal conditions. These ideal conditions included no heat losses, no mechanical friction, lean operation, and short burn durations. Then, each of these idealizations is removed in a step-by-step fashion until a configuration that represents current engines is obtained. During this process, a systematic thermodynamic evaluation was completed to determine the fundamental reasons for the limitations of the maximum efficiencies. For the most ideal assumptions, for compression ratios of 20 and 30, the thermal efficiencies were 62.5% and 66.9%, respectively. These limits are largely a result of the combustion irreversibilities. As each of the idealizations is relaxed, the thermal efficiencies continue to decrease. High compression ratios are identified as an important aspect for high-efficiency engines. Cylinder heat transfer was found to be one of the largest impediments to high efficiency. Reducing cylinder heat transfer, however, is difficult and may not result in much direct increases of piston work due to decreases of the ratio of specific heats. Throughout this work, the importance of high values of the ratio of specific heats was identified as important for achieving high thermal efficiencies. Depending on the selection of constraints, different values may be given for the maximum thermal efficiency. These constraints include the allowed values for compression ratio, heat transfer, friction, stoichiometry, cylinder pressure, and pressure rise rate.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 6

author list (cited authors)

  • Caton, J. A.

citation count

  • 22

complete list of authors

  • Caton, Jerald A

publication date

  • December 2018