Heat engine

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In thermodynamics, a heat engine performs the conversion of heat energy to mechanical work by exploiting the temperature gradient between a hot "source" and a cold "sink". Heat is transferred from the source, through the "working body" of the engine, to the sink, and in this process some of the heat is converted into work by exploiting the properties of a working substance (usually a gas or liquid).

Heat engines are often confused with the cycles they attempt to mimic. Typically when describing the physical device the term 'engine' is used. When describing the model the term 'cycle' is used.

Contents

Overview

In thermodynamics, heat engines are often modeled using a standard engineering model such as the Otto cycle. The theoretical model can be refined and augmented with actual data from an operating engine, using tools such as an indicator diagram. Since very few actual implementations of heat engines exactly match their underlying thermodynamic cycles, one could say that a thermodynamic cycle is an ideal case of a mechanical engine. In any case, fully understanding an engine and its efficiency requires gaining a good understanding of the (possibly simplified or idealized) theoretical model, the practical nuances of an actual mechanical engine, and the discrepancies between the two.

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