Two-stroke and four-stroke engines.
Most modern medium-sized generators are engine "4-stroke" or four-stroke engines, as opposed to "2-stroke" or two-stroke engines, which are very popular in very large marine applications. Although four-stroke alternator engines are widely accepted, it is important to understand the difference. This article will cover the basics of two-strokes and four-strokes.
What is a stroke?
An engine "stroke" defines a phase of an engine cycle during which the piston moves from top to bottom and vice versa.
What is a two-stroke engine?
A second-stroke engine completes one power cycle and one crankshaft rotation through two strokes of the piston. In a two-stroke engine, the end of the combustion stroke and the start of the compression stroke occur simultaneously, and the intake and exhaust functions occur simultaneously.
It is more efficient and powerful than a four-stroke engine, runs hotter and wears out parts faster.
Larger marine engines that still rely on powerful 2-strokes to move their overall loads have been heavily beefed up to fight heat and friction and can last for decades without failure.
Another disadvantage is that 2-stroke engines have more "dirty" exhaust than 4-stroke engines, which makes them less than ideal in a highly controlled emissions environment.
Although rare in gensets these days, you can still come across two-stroke engines as good as they are popular: Detroit Diesel Models 71 and 92.
What is a four-stroke engine?
Four-stroke engines have become the standard for power generation, mainly because they are cleaner than two-stroke engines. Separating the intake stroke from the exhaust stroke reduces the amount of unburned fuel and expanding gases released through the exhaust system. It also lowers overall operating temperatures and reduces wear on engine components.
When the engine turns the crankshaft, the piston completes four independent strokes:
Inhalation, compression, combustion, exhaust gas.
The downside is that the extra stroke drastically reduces the available power. Two-stroke engines generate power per revolution, and four-stroke engines generate other power revolutions per revolution. This reduces the efficiency of the engine in exchange for more manageable emissions and longer life.
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