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A two stroke diesel operates on the same 2 cycle principles as a two stroke gas engine, however the design and operational characteristics have significant differences. Two stroke diesel engines do not require a fuel-oil mixture, nor do they rely on fuel for lubrication; they feature a conventional crankcase filled with engine oil. Unlike many two cycle gas engines, a two stroke diesel requires a typical exhaust valve arrangement and thus a camshaft, although there are no intake valves and air is drawn in through the cylinder liner in the same fashion that a two cycle gas engine draws in its intake air charge.

The two stroke Detroit diesels all feature a roots type blower to create positive pressure in the cylinder during the intake stroke. This pressure creates a scavenging effect and is used to evacuate the exhaust gases from the cylinder during the combined intake and exhaust strokes. Two stroke diesel engines tend to display the following advantages:

Higher thermal efficiency than a comparable 4 stroke engine, translating into favorable fuel efficiency.

High power density (horsepower per unit of displacement)

Engines are reversible and can be run in both clockwise and counterclockwise rotations (ideal for many marine applications that require a reversible engine).