Internal combustion engine efficiency has historically been limited more by the state of technology than innovation. As an example, the potential of technologies such as gasoline direct injection were known and attempted in production more than 50 years ago, but direct injection has only become widely available in production within the last decade and now makes up approximately 38 percent of new light-duty vehicle sales. Another example is low-temperature combustion modes such as homogeneous charge compression ignition combustion—in which fuel and air are injected during the intake stroke and then compressed until the entire mixture reacts spontaneously—which were demonstrated in a laboratory more than 30 years ago but are still many years away from market introduction.
It wouldn’t be until 1860 that a reliable, working internal combustion engine would be invented. A Belgian fellow by the name of Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir patented an engine that injected natural gas into a cylinder, which was subsequently ignited by a permanent flame near the cylinder. It worked similarly to the gunpowder atmospheric engine, but not too efficiently.
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