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An internal combustion engine (ICE) is a heat engine in which the combustion of a fuel occurs with an oxidizer (usually air) in a combustion chamber that is an integral part of the working fluid flow circuit. In an internal combustion engine, the expansion of the high-temperature and high-pressure gases produced by combustion applies direct force to some component of the engine. The force is applied typically to pistons, turbine blades, rotor or a nozzle. This force moves the component over a distance, transforming chemical energy into useful work.

The first commercially successful internal combustion engine was created by Étienne Lenoir around 1860[1] and the first modern internal combustion engine was created in 1876 by Nicolaus Otto (see Otto engine).

The term internal combustion engine usually refers to an engine in which combustion is intermittent, such as the more familiar four-stroke and two-stroke piston engines, along with variants, such as the six-stroke piston engine and the Wankel rotary engine. A second class of internal combustion engines use continuous combustion: gas turbines, jet engines and most rocket engines, each of which are internal combustion engines on the same principle as previously described.[1][2] Firearms are also a form of internal combustion engine [2], though of a type so specialized that they are commonly treated as a separate category.

In contrast, in external combustion engines, such as steam or Stirling engines, energy is delivered to a working fluid not consisting of, mixed with, or contaminated by combustion products. Working fluids for external combustion engines include air, hot water, pressurized water or even liquid sodium, heated in a boiler.

ICEs are usually powered by energy-dense fuels such as gasoline or diesel fuel, liquids derived from fossil fuels. While there are many stationary applications, most ICEs are used in mobile applications and are the dominant power supply for vehicles such as cars, aircraft, and boats, known as internal-combustion-engine vehicles (ICEV).

Typically an ICE is fed with fossil fuels like natural gas or petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel fuel or fuel oil. There is a growing usage of renewable fuels like biodiesel for CI (compression ignition) engines and bioethanol or methanol for SI (spark ignition) engines. Hydrogen is sometimes used, and can be obtained from either fossil fuels or renewable energy.