Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel was born on
During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 Germans became political-undesirables in
Rudolf was awarded a scholarship to attend the Munich Institute of Technology where he studied thermodynamics under Prof. Carl von Linde, the inventor of the ammonia refrigeration machine and the man who devised the first practical method of liquefying air. It was here that Diesel began to think about his ides for a “heat engine”.
At the time the dominant source of mechanical power was from the steam-engine but this suffered from a very poor efficiency, between six and ten per-cent, with less than one-tenth of the energy available to do useful work relative to the energy in fuel it was fed. Diesel asked himself if the heat could not be turned directly into mechanical energy rather than via the steam.
Diesel graduated from Munich Institute of Technology in 1880 and became an apprentice pattern maker and engineer in
In 1892 from
At this time the engine was only a concept, Diesel need to build a prototype. With the help of the Augsburg Machine Works among others he produced his first working prototype in February 1894. Diesel had enormous technical problems to overcome, he continued to build prototypes, modify designs and experiment with fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and lighting-gas for several years. On
Diesel had traded the licence to produce his new engine in
All was not rosy however, years of constant work were having a serious effect on Diesel’s health, he suffered severe headaches and exhaustion and gout and was sent to various sanatoriums for rest. He suffered exhausting patent disputes, the Diesel engine not being the first to employ the principle of compression ignition. In addition, while diesel had been very successful in his own business he had also made some terrible investments and lost millions in other peoples ventures.
“…at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 there was shown by the Otto Company a small Diesel engine, which, at the request of the French Government, ran on Arachide (earth-nut or pea-nut) oil, and worked so smoothly that only very few people were aware of it. The engine was constructed for using mineral oil, and was then worked on vegetable oil without any alterations being made.”
This is often cited as evidence of Diesel’s foresight on bio-fuels but it seem it was more to do with h French Government’s desire to enable their African colonies to become more self sufficient and les reliant on imported fuel. Diesel again:
“The French Government at the time thought of testing the applicability to power production of the Arachide, or earth-nut, which grows in considerable quantities in their African colonies, and which can be easily cultivated there, because in this way the colonies could be supplied with power and industry from their own resources, without being compelled to buy and import coal or liquid fuel.”
However it is true that Diesel was a strong advocate of the use of bio-fuels, if only for his original desire for the engine to be operational almost anywhere on almost any fuel. In 1911 he said:
“The diesel engine can be fed with vegetable oils and would help considerably in the development of agriculture of the countries which use it”
And in 1912:
“The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today but such oils may become, in the course of time, as important as petroleum and the coal-tar products of the present time…motive power can still be produced from the heat of the sun…even when the natural stores of solid and liquid fuels are completely exhausted”
Despite the publishing of another book in 1912, Die Enstebung des Dieslmotors, recounting the history of his invention, Diesel’s debits continued to rise, he seemed to be sinking into a deeper depression over his financial difficulties. On the evening of
The British, European and
Considerable speculation has grown around Diesel’s death; no autopsy or official investigation was ever carried out, he had marked an X by that date in his diary, he left no suicide note and no will. However he did leave an overnight valise with his wife with instruction not to open it until the following week; it contained twenty-thousand German marks in cash and bank statements showing that they were nearly broke.
Rudolf Diesel has no known grave.