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Non-Electric Diesel Engine Starting Systems

Updated on July 5, 2011
Air Starter Motor
Air Starter Motor | Source


A starter motor is an essential part of any diesel engine. It is the device which initially rotates the engine, allowing it to run under its own power. Without it there would be no way for the engine to start. Typically, engine starter motors are electrical, using electricity to turn a motor which starts the engine. However there are situations where it is not possible to use an electrical starter motor. For example some environments may have an explosion risk and the use of electrical starters are not allowed due to the risk of the motor sparking. Also in certain situations an engine may need to be started without any existing power source, a so called "black-start" situation, which makes an electrical motor useless, as there is no power source to power it. In both of these situations an alternative method of starting is required. Several different types of non-electric starters are available, each with their advantages.

Air Starter Demonstration

Air Engine Starters

Air engine starters start engines by using compressed air. A small engine (or the main engine itself before the starter is needed) powers an air compressor which compresses air into a tank. Compressing the air gives it energy. This energy is then released via a valve and converted into rotation by a pneumatic starter motor, which then rotates the flywheel, starting the engibe. Once the engine is running under its own power, it can power compressor to recharges the tank, allowing the system to be used again later if required. Unlike electrical motors air starters have a reduced risk of sparking while in use, making them safe for use in hazardous environments.

Hydraulic Engine Starters

A hydraulic engine starter uses hydraulic fluid under pressure to start engines. The hydraulic fluid is stored in an accumulator and the fluid is pressured either by a powered recharge pump or, in the case of a "black start", a manual hand or foot pump. In a similar manner to the air starter, this fluid is charged and then released using a valve, this time into a hydraulic starter motor, which converts the stored energy into rotation to start the engine. As they can be manually charged, hydraulic starters are ideal for "black start" situations, and can also be made sparkless, allowing for use in explosive environments. They are also able to operate over a wide range of environments and temperatures.

Nitrogen Starter Demonstration

Nitrogen Engine Starters

Nitrogen engine starters use cylinders of compressed nitrogen to start engines. The cylinders used are commercially available and replaceable, allowing for unlimited starting attempts assuming sufficient cylinders are available. They operate in much the same way as air starters, except the nitrogen is pre-compressed. Therefore no compressor is required, meaning the starter can be used without power, making it useful for "black start". Nitrogen systems are also sparkless and the nitrogen itself is an inert gas, meaning it doesn't react with anything. This makes this system safe to use in explosive environments.

Spring Engine Starters

Spring engine starters use elastic potential energy stored in a series of spring to start engines. These springs are compressed manually using a handle on the front of the starter, giving the spring elestic potential energy. This energy is then released and converted into rotation, starting the engine. Spring starters are best suited for smaller engines, due to their low energy output. Spring starters are also good for "black start" as they are started manually.


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