Although various forms of internal combustion engines were developed before the 19th century, their use was hindered until the commercial drilling and production of petroleum began in the mid-1850s. By the late 19th century, engineering advances led to their widespread adoption in a variety of applications.
The internal combustion engine (ICE) is an engine in which the combustion of a fuel (normally a fossil fuel) occurs with an oxidizer (usually air) in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion apply direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful mechanical energy. The first commercially successful internal combustion engine was created by Étienne Lenoir.
The term internal combustion engine usually refers to an engine in which combustion is intermittent, such as the more familiar four-stroke and two-stroke piston engines, along with variants, such as the six-stroke piston engine and the Wankel rotary engine. A second class of internal combustion engines use continuous combustion: gas turbines, jet engines and most rocket engines, each of which are internal combustion engines on the same principle as previously described.
The ICE is quite different from external combustion engines, such as steam or Stirling engines, in which the energy is delivered to a working fluid not consisting of, mixed with, or contaminated by combustion products. Working fluids can be air, hot water, pressurized water or even liquid sodium, heated in a boiler. ICEs are usually powered by energy-dense fuels such as gasoline or diesel, liquids derived from fossil fuels. While there are many stationary applications, most ICEs are used in mobile applications and are the dominant power supply for cars, aircraft, and boats.