Some Basic Things to Know About Turbochargers

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If you’ve watched any of the Fast & Furious franchise movies (or really, any movie that has fast cars as its premise), then you’ve probably seen scenes where cars suddenly speed past each other with fumes coming out of their tailpipes. Well, that means you’ve got a fundamental idea of what a turbocharger is.

The exhaust fumes in this process pollute the air a bit, but the consumption of energy that’s being executed during this process is something that not everyone talks about. Well, that’s because not many people know how these chargers work. The exhaust is a combination of hot gases coming out of a tailpipe when a car moves up its speed and the energy that these gases contain. Essentially, the motion and speed completely disappear into thin air, polluting it in the process.

What’s a clean, environmentally-friendly way of making a car go faster by harnessing the power in an engine? The turbocharger.

Every car engine makes its power by burning fuel in a can known as a cylinder. The cylinder receives a steady supply of air, mixing it with fuel and making a little explosion that drives out a piston. As the piston is moved, the car’s wheels are also spun, thanks to a turn in the gears and shaft. When the piston is pushed back in, all waste air and fuel mixtures are pumped out of the cylinder – the exhaust you see from the tailpipes.

Essentially, the speed at which a vehicle can burn fuel is what determines the amount of power that it can produce at a given time. The more cylinders a vehicle has and the larger they are in size, the more fuel it can burn every second, and the faster it can go (at least, that’s how it should work theoretically).

If you like the vehicle to move faster, you could throw in more cylinders. This is one of the major reasons why some of the top sports cars you see today have between 8 and 12 cylinders, as opposed to conventional vehicles, which have between 3 and 6.

Another popular choice is to make use of a turbocharger (such as can be found at A turbocharger is a simple, cheap additional vehicle kit that can cause an engine to give even more power.

Who invented the turbocharger?

The turbocharger was first invented by Alfred J. Büchi, an automobile enthusiast who lived between 1879 and 1959. Büchi worked at a Swiss engine manufacturing, and his first concept was for a turbocharger that would be able to power the compressor by forcing an additional amount of air into the cylinders in an engine.

The engineer initially developed the turbocharger a few years before the first World War, and he got a patent for it in Germany by 1905. However, he kept working on it, and he never really perfected the design until he died.

However, the design for his invention would outlive him. Sir Dugald Clark, a Scottish innovator, was already making progress with this, as he had conducted some experiments with taking apart the expansion and compression stages of the functioning life in an internal combustion engine. The entire process shared some similarities to supercharging, as it also boosted the flow of air into the cylinder and the amount of fuel that the cylinder could burn.

Supercharged systems were also worked on by a few other engineers, including Gottlieb Daimler – one of the pioneers of the Mercedes Benz brand we all know today, Louis Renault – a French industrialist and one of the founders of the Renault automobile brand, and Lee Chadwick.

How does a turbocharger work?

A turbocharger works almost in the same way as a jet engine. The latter sucks cold air in at the front, compresses it into a chamber, then allows it to mix with fuel before blasting the hot air through the other end. As the hot air escapes, it goes past a turbine, which drives the compressor at the front of the engine.

All of that is what pushes the air into the engine and makes the fuel burn effectively.

Well, the turbocharger in a vehicle works in a similar technique to that. In its operating schematic, a turbine is driven by the exhaust gas. This turbine spins an air compressor that forces additional air and oxygen into the cylinders, thus making it possible for them to burn more fuel every second. This is essentially what gives a turbocharged vehicle the ability to produce much more power.

Known as a mechanically-driven supercharger in full, the supercharger works like a turbocharger itself, but as opposed to getting exhaust gases to power its motion, it gets its power from the spinning crankshaft of the vehicle. Sadly, this is a demerit. A turbocharger is powered by waste energy in the exhaust, while the supercharger takes energy from the power source of the vehicle itself.

In practice, a turbocharger mainly consists of two air fans (known technically as “gas pumps” or “impellers”) that are placed on a metal shaft. Both of them spin around together, and one of them, known as the turbine, is positioned in the exhaust stream from the cylinders.

As the cylinders blow hot gas across to the fans, they rotate, and the shaft that holds them (known technically as the “center hub rotating assembly”) begins to spin, too. The second fan, known as the compressor, sits on the same shaft as the first and starts to rotate as well. The compressor is in the air intake system of the car, so when it spins, it takes in air to the vehicle and forces it into the cylinders.

It might sound like a perfect system, but this actually presents a bit of a challenge. If a gas is compressed, it becomes hotter. This increase in temperature makes the gas less dense, meaning that it’s less effective when it comes to helping to burn the fuel. A better way of doing things will be to cool the air coming from the compressor before it enters the cylinders. To achieve this, the air from the compressor is made to pass over a heat exchanger, which will take out that additional heat and direct it elsewhere.

The origin of the additional power

A lot of people tend to believe that the additional power in a vehicle comes from the exhaust gas that’s now wasted. It’s understandable if you believe that, but it’s not true. When you use a turbocharger, the compressor is driven by some of the energy in the exhaust. Thanks to this process, the engine can consume a higher amount of fuel.

This additional fuel is actually where the extra power for a vehicle comes from. Essentially, the only purpose that the exhaust gas is serving is to provide power to the turbocharger. Also, due to the fact that a turbocharger isn’t connected to the wheels or crankshaft of the vehicle, it actually doesn’t provide any additional driving power to the car. All it does is provide the opportunity for the engine to burn fuel much faster, thus boosting its power and helping it to function even more efficiently.

Additional power estimations

If your vehicle gets more power from a turbocharger, then it’s only fair that an even bigger turbocharger provides even more power. Theoretically, it’s possible for you to work on a turbocharger and make modifications that will boost the power in an engine. However, as we all know, things have limits, and you could reach yours.

At the end of the day, you can only burn so much fuel, and the cylinders of your vehicle themselves are only so big. Also, the amount of air you can force into the cylinders themselves through an inlet is limited, and there’s also a limit to the amount of gas that can be expelled. All of these will significantly limit the energy that can be used to boost the turbocharger.

There are a lot of factors that will impede your ability to drive your turbocharger. Just know that boosting your turbocharger to the ends of the world isn’t possible.