Internal combustion engine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Energy efficiency Once ignited and burnt, the combustion products—hot gases—have more available thermal energy than the original compressed fuel-air mixture (which had higher chemical energy). The available energy is manifested as high temperature and pressure that can be translated into work by the engine. In a reciprocating engine, the high-pressure gases inside the cylinders drive the engine's pistons. Once the available energy has been removed, the remaining hot gases are vented (often by opening a valve or exposing the exhaust outlet) and this allows the piston to return to its previous position (top dead center, or TDC). The piston can then proceed to the next phase of its cycle, which varies between engines. Any heat that isn't translated into work is normally considered a waste product and is removed from the engine either by an air or liquid cooling system. Engine efficiency can be discussed in a number of ways but it usually involves a comparison of the total chemical energy in the fuels, and the useful energy extracted from the fuels in the form of kinetic energy. The most fundamental and abstract discussion of engine efficiency is the thermodynamic limit for extracting energy from the fuel defined by a thermodynamic cycle. The most comprehensive is the empirical fuel efficiency of the total engine system for accomplishing a desired task; for example, the miles per gallon accumulated. Internal combustion engines are primarily heat engines and as such the phenomenon that limits their efficiency is described by thermodynamic cycles. None of these cycles exceed the limit defined by the Carnot cycle which states that the overall efficiency is dictated by the difference between the lower and upper operating temperatures of the engine. A terrestrial engine is usually and fundamentally limited by the upper thermal stability derived from the material used to make up the engine. All metals and alloys eventually melt or decompose and there is significant researching into ceramic materials that can be made with higher thermal stabilities and desirable structural properties. Higher thermal stability allows for greater temperature difference between the lower and upper operating temperatures—thus greater thermodynamic efficiency. The thermodynamic limits assume that the engine is operating in ideal conditions: a frictionless world, ideal gases, perfect insulators, and operation at infinite time. The real world is substantially more complex and all the complexities reduce the efficiency. In addition, real engines run best at specific loads and rates as described by their power band. For example, a car cruising on a highway is usually operating significantly below its ideal load, because the engine is designed for the higher loads desired for rapid acceleration. The applications of engines are used as contributed drag on the total system reducing overall efficiency, such as wind resistance designs for vehicles. These and many other losses result in an engine's real-world fuel economy that is usually measured in the units of miles per gallon (or fuel consumption in liters per 100 kilometers) for automobiles. The miles in miles per gallon represents a meaningful amount of work and the volume of hydrocarbon implies a standard energy content. Most steel engines have a thermodynamic limit of 37%. Even when aided with turbochargers and stock efficiency aids, most engines retain an average efficiency of about 18%-20%. Rocket engine efficiencies are better still, up to 70%, because they combust at very high temperatures and pressures and are able to have very high expansion ratios. There are many inventions concerned with increasing the efficiency of IC engines. In general, practical engines are always compromised by trade-offs between different properties such as efficiency, weight, power, heat, response, exhaust emissions, or noise. Sometimes economy also plays a role in not only the cost of manufacturing the engine itself, but also manufacturing and distributing the fuel. Increasing the engine's efficiency brings better fuel economy but only if the fuel cost per energy content is the same.