Definitions

external-combustion

External combustion engine

An external combustion engine (EC engine) is a heat engine where an (internal) working fluid is heated by combustion of an external source, through the engine wall or a heat exchanger. The fluid then, by expanding and acting on the mechanism of the engine produces motion and usable work. The fluid is then cooled, compressed and reused (closed cycle), or (less commonly) dumped, and cool fluid pulled in (open cycle air engine).

"Combustion" refers to burning fuel with an oxidizer, to supply the heat. Engines of similar (or even identical) configuration and operation may use a supply of heat from other sources such as nuclear, solar, geothermal or exothermic reactions not involving combustion; but are not then strictly classed as external combustion engines.

The working fluid can be a gas as in a Stirling engine, or steam as in a steam engine. The fluid can be of any composition; gas is by far the most common, although even single-phase liquid is sometimes used. In the case of the steam engine, the fluid changes phases between liquid and gas.

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