Combustion chamber

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Combustion chamber (named combustor) on a Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet engine

A combustion chamber is that part of an internal combustion engine (ICE) in which the fuel/air mix is burned.

Internal combustion engine[edit]

Diagram of jet engine showing the combustion chamber.

ICEs typically comprise reciprocating piston engines, rotary engines, gas turbine and jet turbines.

The combustion process increases the internal energy of a gas, which translates into an increase in temperature, pressure, or volume depending on the configuration. In an enclosure, for example the cylinder of a reciprocating engine, the volume is controlled and the combustion creates an increase in pressure. In a continuous flow system, for example a jet engine combustor, the pressure is controlled and the combustion creates an increase in volume. This increase in pressure or volume can be used to do work, for example, to move a piston on a crankshaft or a turbine disc in a gas turbine. If the gas velocity changes, thrust is produced, such as in the nozzle of a rocket engine.

Petrol or gasoline engine[edit]

Side-valve engine showing combustion chamber

A petrol engine is often designed so that the moving pistons are flush with the top of the cylinder block at top dead centre. The combustion chamber[citation needed] is recessed in the cylinder head and commonly contains a single intake valve and a single exhaust valve. Some engines use a dished piston and in this case the combustion chamber can be considered as partly within the cylinder.[citation needed]

Head types

Various shapes of combustion chamber have been used, such as: L-head (or flathead) for side-valve engines; "bathtub", "hemispherical", and "wedge" for overhead valve engines; and "pent-roof" for engines having 3, 4 or 5 valves per cylinder. The shape of the chamber has a marked effect on power output, efficiency and emissions; the designer's objectives are to burn all of the mixture as completely as possible while avoiding excessive temperatures (which create NOx). This [clarification needed]is best achieved with a compact rather than elongated chamber.[citation needed]

Swirl & Squish

The intake valve/port is usually placed to give the mixture a pronounced "swirl" (the term is preferable to "turbulence", which implies movement without overall pattern) above the rising piston, improving mixing and combustion. The shape of the piston top also affects the amount of swirl. Another design feature to promote turbulence for good fuel/air mixing is "squish", where the fuel/air mix is "squished" at high pressure by the rising piston.[1][2]

Flame front

Finally, the spark plug must be situated in a position from which the flame front can reach all parts of the chamber at the desired point, usually around 15 degrees after top dead centre. It is strongly desirable to avoid narrow crevices where stagnant "end gas" can become trapped, as this tends to detonate violently after the main charge, adding little useful work and potentially damaging the engine. Also, the residual gases displace room for fresh air/fuel mixture and will thus reduce the power potential of each firing stroke.[citation needed]

Diesel engine[edit]

Dished piston for diesel engine

Diesel engines fall into two broad classes:

  • Direct injection, where the combustion chamber consists of a dished piston
  • Indirect injection, where the combustion chamber is in the cylinder head

Direct injection engines usually give better fuel economy but indirect injection engines can use a lower grade of fuel.

Harry Ricardo was prominent in developing combustion chambers for diesel engines, the best known[note 1] being the Ricardo Comet.

Gas turbine[edit]

Main article: Combustor

The combustion chamber in gas turbines and jet engines (including ramjets and scramjets) is called the combustor.

The combustor is fed with high pressure air by the compression system, adds fuel and burns the mix and feeds the hot, high pressure exhaust into the turbine components of the engine or out the exhaust nozzle.

Different types of combustors exist, mainly:

  • Can type: Can combustors are self-contained cylindrical combustion chambers. Each "can" has its own fuel injector, liner,interconnectors,casing. Each "can" get an air source from individual opening.
  • Cannular type: Like the can type combustor, can annular combustors have discrete combustion zones contained in separate liners with their own fuel injectors. Unlike the can combustor, all the combustion zones share a common air casing.
  • Annular type: Annular combustors do away with the separate combustion zones and simply have a continuous liner and casing in a ring (the annulus).

Rocket engine[edit]

Steam engine[edit]

The term combustion chamber is also used to refer to an additional space between the firebox and boiler in a steam locomotive.[citation needed] This space is used to allow further combustion of the fuel, providing greater heat to the boiler.

Large steam locomotives usually have a combustion chamber in the boiler to allow the use of shorter firetubes. This is because:

  • Long firetubes have a theoretical advantage in providing a large heating surface but, beyond a certain length, this is subject to diminishing returns.
  • Very long firetubes are prone to sagging in the middle.

Micro combustion chambers[edit]

Micro combustion chambers are the devices in which combustion happens at a very small volume, due to which surface to volume ratio increases which plays a vital role in stabilizing the flame.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Comet series was best known in later years. At the time, Ricardo achieved much of his fame for his earlier turbulent head, used in petrol sidevalve engines.