Foil Air Bearings for High-Temperature Turbocharger Applications

Within the realm of turbocharging, there are a number of different design challenges that influence the design process on both large-scale marine applications and smaller-scale commercial automobile applications.  From aerodynamic loads to dynamic control systems to rotor dynamics and bearing challenges, turbochargers represent a special subset of turbomachinery that requires complex and integrated solutions.  Turbocharger rotors specifically, have unique characteristics due to the dynamics of having a heavy turbine and compressor wheel located at the overhang ends of the rotor. The majority of turbocharger rotors are supported within a couple floating-ring oil film bearings.  In general, these bearings provide the damping necessary to support the high gyroscopic moments of the impeller wheels.  However, there are several disadvantages of working with these oil systems that have allowed different technologies to start to surface for these turbomachines.  With the floating-ring oil models, varying ring speed ratios and oil viscosity changes significantly influence the performance of the rotor dynamic model.

Dan blog bearing for turbochargers
Figure 1 – Floating-Ring Bearing Model for a Turbocharger

The application of oil-free bearings have started to emanate due to the overall consistency of their performance and the minimized heat loss associated with air as the damping fluid. Studies on these bearing types for turbomachinery applications are neither trivial nor unique, as they have seen plenty of exposure within the commercial and military aircraft industries within turbo compressors and turboexpanders. However, the success of these specific applications are due to the fact that these turbomachines operate with light loads and relatively low temperatures. The main design challenges with foil air bearings are a result of poor rotor dynamic performance, material capabilities, and inadequate load capacities at high temperature/high load applications.

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Simultaneous Design for Turbocharger Compressors and Turbine Wheels

AxSTREAM Blade Profiling
Figure 1- AxSTREAM 3D Blade Profiler for Radial Designs

Increasing regulation for reducing emissions has forced the automotive industry to accept different technologies over the years in order to stay ahead of the market. In an industry that is so accustomed to internal combustion engines, new solutions such as electric motors and turbocharger systems have allowed experts in other industries to cultivate an influence in the automotive market. Specifically in the realm of turbomachinery, increased development has gone into designing turbochargers in order to minimize the effect and size of internal combustion engines. Design challenges are inherent in the fact that an engine is a positive displacement device whereas the turbocharger falls under aerodynamic turbomachinery. The two separate machine types have distinctly different flow characteristics, and the proper sizing of a turbocharger for its parent engine requires proper modeling of the engineering system as a whole.

In general, initial turbocharger sizing becomes a matter of obtaining the necessary boundary conditions required for a preliminary design. A thermodynamic cycle analysis of an ICE-Turbocharger system will allow the designer to obtain an initial idea of the bounds

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The Future of Turbocharger Technology

­One of the main setbacks in scaling different turbochargers for diesel, petrol, and gas engines is the inherit variability that different turbochargers would exhibit at low or high RPMs. In order to understand this further, a common term used to describe a flow characteristic of these machines is the A/R ratio.  Technically, this ratio is defined as the inlet cross-sectional area divided by the radius from the turbo center to the centroid of that area (Figure 1).  This ratio is essentially a metric for the amount of air that is allowed into the turbine section of the turbocharger.

Ratio visualization
Figure 1 – A/R Ratio Visualization

For smaller turbochargers, lower A/R ratios allow the fast exhaust velocities to drive the turbine at lower speeds.  This results in a more responsive engine and overall higher boosts at lower RPMs.  However, once a vehicle starts to navigate at a higher RPM, smaller turbochargers experience a significant reduction in performance due to the high backpressure present in the system.  This occurs because of the low A/R ratio limits the flow capacity and does not allow a sufficient amount of air to feed into the turbine.  The same effect is present for larger turbochargers, only in reverse.  They will perform most efficiently at higher RPMs, but in turn exhibit a significant reduction in performance at lower RPMs.

In order to overcome this phenomenon, many engineers have developed more complex turbocharger systems over the years, which attempt to leverage the benefits of each type of turbo.  One of the first solutions to this dilemma was the twin turbo: simply comprised of two separate turbochargers operating in the system in parallel or in series.  The problem with this system is that it disproportionately increases the cost, complexity, and space necessary for implementation.

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Turbocharger Design and Industry Usage Discussion

An opportunity to discuss turbocharger usage and design with Softinway engineer Ursula Shannon in a question and answer format:

What are some of the major current turbocharger design challenges?

When it comes to turbocharger design, there are two challenges that engineers generally face. “Turbo lag” and turbo boost power at varying engine RPMs. “Turbo lag” is the time that it takes for the engine to produce enough exhaust to start the turbocharger “working”. This can vary greatly depending on engine size, turbocharger geometry, exhaust output etc. Ideally, engineers want to reduce this “Turbo lag” by as much as possible in any given situation, as during that time, the exhaust is “wasted” in a sense. Finding the most efficient configuration with all of the parameters in mind can be a very challenging scenario from a design perspective.

The turbo boost design challenge is one of efficiency at variable exhaust outputs. A smaller charger for example will start to boost at lower engine speeds while a larger one will start to boost at engine speeds. The trade off however is that a smaller turbo will start to create what is known as back pressure at higher speeds, and this results in a loss of potential power. A larger turbocharger, will be able to create more overall boost at higher speeds, however the “Turbo Lag” is more pronounced as more engine exhaust is required. Minimizing these trade offs is another key challenge in turbocharger design.

Finally, the process of turbocharger design process itself is complex, and requires highly specialized software such as our own here in Softinway (AxSTREAM).

Turbocharger blog 3

AxSTREAM Turbocharger Design Software ( Flowpath Design and Optimization )

turbocharger blog 2

AxSTREAM Turbocharger Design Software (Compressor 1D Design and Analysis)

What are some design changes do you see coming to turbochargers in the future?

As I mentioned some of the challenges engineers face in turbocharger design, currently many technologies and methods are being developed to alleviate some of the issues faced.

Two stage turbochargers are good example of trying to offer a solution to the boost powers at varying engine outputs, using a smaller turbocharger that operates at low RPMs and a larger turbocharger that operates at higher RPMs.

Electronic energy storage setups are currently being developed and used in European race cars which uses the output side of the turbocharger as a sort of generator which stores energy in a battery from turbocharger operations and acts as a boost during a turbocharger’s lag period.

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Design Considerations in Turbochargers (Part 1 – Incidence)

A turbocharger (TC) has to provide a required pressure ratio for efficient combustion and operation of an internal combustion engine (ICE). The turbocharger consists of a turbine and a compressor sides on the same shaft. The turbine utilizes the energy of exhaust gases while the compressor forces the air into the engine. The compressor with a wide operating range is a strict requirement in the automotive industry because the unit has to operate across all of the ICE regimes.

Even though any compressor has a design point, the ability to operate at low and high mass flows is critical for TC compressors. To satisfy the operating range requirement, a designer tries increasing mass flow at choke and decreasing mass flow at surge. This is quite a challenge. For smaller mass flow rates, the impeller outlet and diffuser should be optimized. The choice of a vaneless diffuser is always justified by increased flow range at the cost of efficiency.

To increase the right-most mass flow limit, a designer optimizes the compressor inlet. The common practice is to design blades with large inlet metal angles. Increase in inlet angles open larger area for the flow to pass. This, in turn, leads to large incidence angles at design point. Therefore, many TC compressors are designed with large positive incidence in the design point. The incidence angle increases for every speedline going toward the surge line. Incidence distribution on a TC compressor map is shown in the figure below. It is equal to +12 deg (with respect to tangent) in the design point.

Fig. 1 Incidence on the TC compressor map
Fig. 1 Incidence on the TC compressor map


Blog - incidenceDesign point: An operating condition where a compressor reaches maximum efficiency

Compressor Map: Pressure versus mass flow characteristic at different rotational speeds and isoefficiency contours

Speedline: Dependence of pressure on mass flow rate for a given shaft speed

Surge: Left-most point on a compressor map for a given shaft speed

Choke: Right-most point on a compressor map for a given shaft speed

Incidence: The difference between inlet flow and metal angles. If an incidence is small, the flow has less resistance to enter the impeller.


Turbochargers in Formula 1

The history of turbochargers in Formula 1 is pretty fascinating. Turbochargers were initially introduced in 1905, applied to large diesel engines in the 1920’s and found their way into commercial automobiles in 1938. However, it took a few more decades for the turbochargers to be used in Formula 1 car racing.

When Renault decided to enter the sport in 1977, they started their engines based on the novel turbocharger concept. As one would expect, their first design suffered from constant reliability problems through all the races it competed in. As Renault focused their development entirely on the engine, the car’s aerodynamics worsened; it suffered a huge turbolag under acceleration, and when the boost finally triggered the tires were not able to handle it [1]. “So the engine broke and made everyone one laugh”, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, the driver, admitted in an interview. At the time, everyone was looking at the turbo engines as something that no one would ever hear about again.

MMR, twin turbocharged GT500 V8 engine, from Mustangs Daily [3].
MMR, twin turbocharged GT500 V8 engine, from Mustangs Daily [3].
From theJUDGE13 [2].
From theJUDGE13 [2].






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Innovative Boost of Larger Internal Combustion Engines

The last few decades have brought with them a dramatic increase in the development and use of turbochargers in automobiles, trains, boats, ships, and aircrafts. There are several reasons for this growth, including rising demand for fuel efficiency, stricter regulations on emissions, and advancements in turbomachinery design. Turbochargers are appearing more and more and are replacing superchargers.



Turbochargers are not the only turbomachinery technology growing in popularity in the marine, automobile, and railroad industries. Organic Rankine Cycles are being applied to take advantage of the exhaust gas energy and boost engine power output. ORCs, a system for Waste Heat Recovery, improve the overall efficiency of the vehicle, train, or boat, and reduce specific emissions.

As the size of the engines we consider increases, there is more heat available to recuperate, and more potential WHR systems to use. For instance, we can consider different combinations of these systems with both non-turbocharged and turbocharged engines. We are able to design and compare engine boost system combinations, with and without a turbocharger, with and without a blowdown turbine, and with and without a WHR system, at the cycle and turbine design levels.

In our upcoming webinar, we will do just that. We will design different combinations for larger ICEs and compare the results. This webinar will also cover introductions to these systems and application examples for supplementary power production systems in the automotive and marine industries.

We hope you can attend! Register by following the link below.



Free Webinar: Maximizing Turbocharger Boost with Advanced Design Features

turbochargerinengineTurbochargers, nowadays, are becoming increasingly common in the internal combustion engines of automobiles in order to improve fuel economy and meet government emission regulations. A turbocharger must provide a designed increase in pressure under load condition (design point) while generating enough power at the low end (loss mass flow region). Internal combustion engine working characteristics, however, prevent a centrifugal compressor from generating enough boost at the low end when radial turbine rotational speed is low. Continue reading “Free Webinar: Maximizing Turbocharger Boost with Advanced Design Features”

Formula 1 Racing is Turbocharged

turbochargerinengineYes, the Formula 1 races have begun. The world is three races in with the fourth Grand Prix scheduled for April 20 in China.  As the world watches in awe at the versatility and speed (let’s face it, the races are all about the cars, right?), engineers marvel at the aerodynamics, energy recovery systems, turbochargers and internal combustion engines (because we love engineering).

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At a Glance – Turbochargers


With the ongoing movement toward global environmental protection, regulations related to the exhaust emissions and fuel consumption of automobiles are being strengthened. To cope with these requirements, turbochargers are an effective tool to improve fuel consumption and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, by reducing the engine weight and friction loss.

Since a turbocharger supplies compressed air to an engine, it can reduce the engine displacement relative to an atmospheric engine for the same power. Variable geometry turbochargers, which can control the boost pressure according to the engine operating conditions, are becoming increasingly popular, creating a demand for a centrifugal compressor with a wide and stable operational range. Continue reading “At a Glance – Turbochargers”

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