Combustion Chambers: Definition, Types & Design

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  • 0:03 What Is a Combustion Chamber?
  • 1:18 Internal Combustion Engines
  • 2:33 External Combustion Engines
  • 3:11 Some Design Considerations
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dina El Chammas Gass

Dina has taught college Environmental Studies classes and has a master's degree in Environmental and Water Resource Engineering.

In this lesson, we'll define combustion chamber and go over the different types. You'll also be introduced to fundamental elements that play into the design of a combustion chamber.

What Is a Combustion Chamber?

Have you ever wondered just how a train is powered? What about your car or the plane you took on vacation last year? Okay, an engine was probably involved, but how do they work exactly? Well, you have to burn fuel to create the energy to do work. In order to burn fuel, you need a space to do so. That's where combustion chambers come in.

A combustion chamber is an enclosed space inside of a combustion engine in which a fuel and air mixture is burned. Burning fuel releases a gas that increases in temperature and volume. When you heat a gas, the atoms in the gas start bouncing off each other with more energy and vigor. The hard bouncing causes them to get thrown out farther and the whole gaseous cloud expands.

Some engines don't allow the gas to expand when heated by confining the gas within a set volume. Since the gas can't expand, the pressure increases. Other engines are designed to use the increase of pressure to drive exhaust gases out at high speed. Engines are designed differently to increase either the volume, pressure, or velocity of the gaseous mixture to generate work.

Internal Combustion Engines

There are different types of combustion chambers for internal combustion engines:

Piston engines drive motorized vehicles such as cars and boats. They typically consist of a cylinder with a piston inside. The piston slides tightly within the cylinder driven by the force created by exploding combustion fuel. These engines have two types of combustion chambers. The combustion chamber may be located in the cylinder head, the cap at the end of the cylinder, or on top of the piston, called a 'heron head' combustion chamber.

Combustion chambers in jet engines and gas turbines are called combustors and are configured differently than piston engines. In combustors, air is pulled in and compressed through the compressor. Some of this compressed air is channeled into the combustor to drive the combustion of fuel.

The combustor then feeds the high-temperature gas back into the engine. This gas is either expelled out of the exhaust with great speed, producing thrust or is run through a turbine. The primary components of a combustor are the casing, liner, igniter, fuel injector, and exhaust.

External Combustion Engines

External combustion engines consists primarily of steam engines used to generate electricity in coal and nuclear power plants, as well as run steam locomotives. The combustion chambers for steam engines typically lie between the firebox, where coal is burned, and the boiler. The heat of combustion is used to turn water into steam in a boiler, with the high pressure steam doing all the work in the engine. Combustion chambers are sometimes placed right after the firebox to create more space between the heat of combustion and the steam. This allows for more complete combustion and increases the heat transfer area.

Some Design Considerations

Sue Ann is an engineer, and she is designing a combustion chamber. She will be mainly concerned with:

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