Efficiency limitations of fossil fuels

The driving force of any heat engine (machine used to derive useable power from the heat of combustion) is a temperature differential. According to Carnot's law (refer to Chapter 3), the efficiency of any combustion process is proportional to the difference in temperature between the heat source (the combustion chamber) and the heat sink (the exhaust environment). In other words, you want to burn the fuel at as high a temperature as possible in order to achieve the most efficiency.

You can also increase efficiency by lowering the temperature of the exhaust environment as much as possible as well, but in most cases this is not a practical variable. The exhaust ambient is what it is, unless huge amounts of energy are expended in lowering the temperature, and that defeats the purpose.

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