The fundamental difference between spark ignition (SI) and compression ignition (CI) engines lies in the type of combustion that occurs, and not in whether the process is idealised as an Otto cycle or a Diesel cycle. The combustion process occurs at neither constant volume (Otto cycle), nor constant pressure (Diesel cycle). The difference between the two combustion processes is that spark ignition engines usually have pre-mixed flames while compression ignition engines have diffusion flames. With pre-mixed combustion the fuel/air mixture must always be close to stoichiometric (chemically correct) for reliable ignition and combustion. To control the power output a spark ignition engine is throttled, thus reducing the mass of fuel and air in the combustion chamber; this reduces the cycle efficiency. In contrast, for compression ignition engines with fuel injection the mixture is close to stoichiometric only at the flame front. The output of compression ignition engines can thus be varied by controlling the amount of fuel injected; this accounts for their superior part load fuel economy.
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