How a Diesel-powered Generator Works

By: Brian Jenkins

Diesel-powered generators are used to provide electricity in a variety of situations. Many families use large diesel units to supply electricity to their home during power outages. Smaller diesel generators can even be brought on camping trips or placed on jobsites. These handy power providers use simple principles in order to provide precious energy. Understanding how they work is simple. The energy from the combustion engine is converted into electricity by the generator. How this happens requires a little more explanation.

The Diesel Engine

Large trucks, passenger trucks, and even some cars on the market today have diesel engines. Of course, these engines are best known for their use in tractor-trailers. Industrial shipping would not be the same without the use of diesel combustion engines. Diesel is a derivative of crude oil that is less refined than gasoline. Until recent spikes in the price and demand of crude oil, it was cheaper than regular gasoline.

A diesel engine differs from a gasoline because it uses compression in order to ignite the fuel. Pistons compress the air and fuel in the combustion chambers and it self-ignites. Gasoline engines use a spark plug to achieve the same result. The resulting reaction creates the energy necessary to propel the vehicle forward or, in the case of a generator, turn a wire coil.

Diesel engines are preferred in industrial applications because they are more efficient and provide more power than other combustion engines. This is in part due to the way fuel is injected into the combustion chamber. The engine measures the right amount of fuel for the amount of air, creating better conditions for combustion. The fuel itself also contains more energy by volume than gasoline. Though the engines have to be bigger than those that use gasoline, they are overall more productive.

The Electric Generator

As combustion occurs inside the diesel engine, the energy is used to drive pistons. The mechanical energy of the pistons is designed to rotate a rod going into the generator. The sole responsibility of the generator is to convert this mechanical energy into electric energy. Usually this is achieved by spinning a small arm attached to a coil of wire. The wire spins inside magnets of opposite charges. This forces electrons through the wire and creates a current. Soon the electricity is flowing, and the outlets located on the unit have power.

Uses and Considerations

Diesel is used almost exclusively as the fuel for large industrial generators. This is because it is able to provide more power with less fuel. Additionally, it can be purchased from distributors without a highway tax added onto the price. Most diesel-powered generator will even run off of biofuel.

The combination of a diesel engine and generator can be package into smaller units that are more portable than industrial models. Even though they are small, the engines in these products still give off heat and dangerous emissions. These generators need to be kept outdoors away from flammable material. It is also a good idea to learn how to properly store extra diesel fuel.

Many families choose to buy a generator for unexpected power outages. A professional electrician can connect large generators directly to a home. They can wire a transfer switch to the electrical system in order to avoid feeding power back into the outside line. There are also natural gas and propane generators available for this type of project. Diesel options are the most expensive, but also the most efficient.

Portable diesel units can be transported to job sites and camping grounds. Though these units provide less power than permanent installations, trailer units can run several large appliances at a time. The unit will not only have to be able to handle the running wattage of the item, but also its starting wattage. It is not good to overload a generator, but it can be especially easy to damage smaller ones.

Lastly, diesel generators need to be allowed to warm up upon start-up and cool down before fueling. Letting the generator warm up will assure it will run more smoothly and be able to handle appliances rated up to its capacity. Turning the generator off before refueling will let the heat dissipate and reduce the risk of fire. Diesel-powered generators are cost-effective and efficient machines. Handling them correctly and performing proper maintenance will guarantee many years of service.

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