Empirical and analytical data on the minimum possible flame temperatures for combustion processes rapid enough to be effective for engine operation are presented. The fundamental basis for these minimum temperatures is explored with chemical kinetic analysis. The combination of these minimum temperatures and the time scales associated with engine processes yield minimum possible levels of in-cylinder NOx production for both diesel and spark-ignition engines. These minimum NOx levels are identified and validated empirically. Legislated NOx levels lower than those indicated will require exhaust aftertreatment in addition to in-cylinder combustion control.