Turbochargers were valued for their capacity to enhance horsepower for many years. This is why they were preferred for high-performance cars. Modern turbochargers act as a double-edged sword as they increase horsepower and improve fuel efficiency. Turbochargers allow smaller engines to operate efficiently while still maintaining the ability to achieve highway speeds.
What is a Turbo Charger?
A turbocharger is a type of air pump that takes in air at atmospheric pressure, compresses this air, thus raising the pressure and then delivers this compressed air into the engine through the inlet valves. Historically, turbos have been used in cars and vans with diesel engines to enhance performance, but now there is a growing trend of use of turbochargers in gasoline-powered engines.
The turbocharger was first developed by an automotive engineer back in 1905. He then kept working on its design and upgradation. Other engineers were also busy making separate cylinder systems for the stages of the combustion engine. Better designs for turbochargers were available in 1920, but the work to enhance engine efficiency continued over the years.
The Working Principle of the Turbocharger
A turbocharger basically uses exhaust gas to run a turbine. It consists of two small fans, also called gas pumps, fitted on the same metal shaft, and both fans spin together. One of these fans is positioned in the exhaust stream of the cylinder. This fan is called the turbine. When cylinders release the hot gases through the fan blades, they rotate, making the shaft rotate as well. As the other fan, called the compressor, is also at the end of the same shaft, it spins too. It takes the air from outside and delivers it to the cylinders.
To picturise the working of a turbocharger, imagine two fans connected by a shaft and have a cylinder for fuel burning in between them. The cool air enters one end to meet the compressor fan, which sucks the intake of air. The incoming air gets heated up in the compressor by increasing the pressure. This hot and compressed gas travels through a heat exchanger, which cools it down. The cooler air is the intake of the cylinder, and oxygen present in it helps burn the fuel faster. During the burning of fuel, energy is released from the cylinder, which is used to enhance horsepower. The hot gases produced during burning go up to the turbine fan, making it rotate. As both the fans are connected, the spinning turbine causes a compressor fan to spin, and the process continues. So, the basic steps in the working scheme a turbocharger follows include
- Air intake at the compressor end
- Hot and compressed air leaving the compressor
- Heat exchange
- Cool air entering the cylinder
- Fuel-burning and energy-release
- Hot waste gases moving towards the turbine fan
- The turbine spins, and so does the compressor
Types of Setups with Turbocharger
- Single turbo setups are the most common as they are more straightforward, less costly, and do enough to add power. The setup is installed in small, medium, and luxurious cars.
- Twin-turbo setups with sequential or parallel arrangements are usually found in performance cars. In a sequential pattern, one turbo is small, and the other one is large, while both are of the same size and do the same amount of work in a parallel pattern.
- Twin scroll turbo is a setup containing two air channels in a single turbocharger. Two cylinders spin each channel. Its performance is quite remarkable compared to a single channel, as it covers the turbo lag.
- Variable Geometry Turbo is found in diesel engines. VGT setups use a row of vanes to control the exhaust flow through the turbine wheel. Vanes are broad blades attached to a rotating axis. VGT setups solve the problems caused by either a large turbo or a very small turbocharger.
Advantages of Turbochargers
A turbocharger is the ultimate solution to increase the power generation from the same-sized engine. It can be equipped with a gasoline engine or a diesel engine. You might think that power generation means more input in terms of fuel. However, a turbocharger does not increase fuel utilisation because it is fitted with a small engine, hence using less fuel to generate more energy. Estimates show that it saves up to 12% of your fuel consumption. Another advantage is that the by-products of fuel burning with a turbocharger do not contaminate the air.
Fuel efficiency is not always the case, especially in very small engines, because the energy produced by the turbocharger is way beyond such an engine’s capacity. Another thing is that it complicates the mechanisation of previously simple engines. Turbochargers have to be maintained regularly. The higher pressure and temperature the turbo works on can affect the engine parts.
Turbochargers replaced superchargers to enhance power output in aircraft at higher altitudes. They eventually became a part of vehicles such as buses, trucks and motorsports. Turbochargers are highly praised and valued by automotive due to their efficiency.
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