After the manipulated engines scandal by the Volkswagen Group in recent years, Diesel vehicles are in question. It is scientifically proven that these engines are more polluting than gasoline engines.
The irony that many are unaware of is that its inventor, Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), was a convinced advocate of clean energy and sought to create an ecological engine. And he succeeded but, after his death, his idea was betrayed.
Not content with the performance of the steam engines or combustion engines of his time, Franco-German engineer Rudolf Diesel began research in 1890 to find an engine capable of running more efficiently on oils. Those were the years of the industrial revolution: coal and oil seemed like the new horizon, and capitalism, the great hope of Europe. However, he opted for the use of biofuels and also tried to spread a fairer and more supportive economic model that would overcome capitalism and socialism.
Diesel, who due to his sudden death could not witness the enormous relevance that his invention acquired, managed to create an engine capable of running on biofuels produced from plant species, something that guaranteed cleanliness and sustainability. In a speech he gave a year before his death, he said: ” The use of vegetable oils for motor fuel may seem insignificant today, but such oils may, over time, become important substitutes for oil.
But finally, it was a fossil fuel, Diesel, which proved to be suitable for the performance of the Diesel engine and prevailed over biofuels. In this way, his heirs betrayed the spirit of his invention, since Diesel comes from a non-renewable resource and to make matters worse it is more polluting than gasoline. Throughout the 20th century, the Diesel engine, whose main advantage is that it consumes less fuel than gasoline engines, experienced tremendous expansion and is still used today in cars, trucks, locomotives, ships, and machinery of all kinds.
Despite having spent seven years working with great success in the refrigeration industry, where he registered dozens of patents, what Diesel was passionate about were engines and the automotive industry, so from 1890, he began to carry out studies on thermal efficiency. His goal was to overcome the results of the steam engine and other engines that were being developed in those years and find more efficient fuels.
It was then that he performed an experiment that almost cost him his life. He designed and built a steam engine and used Ammonia as fuel. The engine exploded and the explosion caused him serious injuries for which he had to spend several months in hospital. His health was greatly diminished and he suffered injuries to his eyes, but the engineer was not daunted and immediately continued with his experiments. He designed all kinds of engines and collected the results of his research in a document entitled ” Theory and construction of a rational heat engine to replace the steam engine and combustion engines known today“.
Between 1892 and 1897, he developed a series of prototypes in the workshops of the MAN AG company, belonging to the Krupp business group. The first of these was a machine with a single large cylinder, an ugly but very effective contraption that was gradually perfected in successive models until it achieved an engine that worked by burning palm oil. This engine, later called the Diesel, was introduced in Munich in 1897.
At the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900, Diesel took another prototype, which worked with peanut oil. It immediately attracted the attention of engineers from all over the world: this peculiar engine that “swallowed everything” was on everyone’s lips. Overnight, he became a celebrity and millionaire.
But the glory lasted a very short time. Two years after patenting his invention, he founded a factory in Augsburg to produce motors. Perhaps his specialty was not business management, or perhaps his failing health weakened his strength and drive. Be that as it may, the factory turned out to be a resounding failure and Diesel went bankrupt.
This was not his only disappointment. Apart from being an engineer, Rudolf Diesel was a thinker who dreamed of improving the society around him. He reflected his ideas in a book entitled “Solidarismus“, which he published in 1903. In this book, he defended the need for a more supportive economic model, halfway between capitalism and socialism. Diesel put the accent on the promotion of cooperative societies in which private interest and collective interest would be combined.
All things considered, he was a visionary of what we now call the social economy and which is currently one of the most vigorous, healthy, and widespread economic sectors in the world. Unfortunately, only 200 copies of “Solidarismus” were sold. Nor was he rewarded in other social battles in which he was involved, such as the spread of Esperanto as the universal language of humanity.
Perhaps the general indifference to his social ideas or his financial ruin drove him to despair. The only thing certain is that on the night of September 29, 1913, while traveling on a mail steamer from Holland to England, he fell overboard and drowned in the waters of the English Channel. Before sailing, he had given a bag to his wife, Martha, telling her not to open it for a week. When his wife opened the bag, she found 200,000 Deutschmarks in cash and some bank statements indicating that his account was practically at zero.
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