A Brief History of the Turbocharger – Part 1

Turbochargers are one of the more common turbomachines out there today! As everyone is making efforts to lower carbon dioxide emissions in automobiles, and the automotive OEMs engage in a “horsepower war”, the turbocharger will likely continue to grow in popularity for both civil and commercial uses.

But how did these machines get so popular? That’s what we’ll be exploring in this blog miniseries! Today’s blog will introduce the concept of the turbocharger, and the beginnings of its development around the turn of the 20th century.

Turbocharging engines and the idea of forced induction on internal combustion engines are as old as the engines themselves. Their intertwined history can be traced back to the 1880’s, when Gottlieb Daimler was tinkering with the idea of forced induction on a “grandfather clock” engine. Daimler was supposedly the first to apply the principles of supercharging an engine in 1900, when he mounted a roots-style supercharger to a 4-stroke engine.

The birth of the turbocharger, however, would come 5 years later, when Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi received a patent for an axial compressor driven by an axial turbine on a common shaft with the piston of the engine. Although this design wasn’t feasible at the time due to a lack of viable materials, the idea was there.

Turbochargers vs Superchargers

What idea was that, exactly? And how did it differ from supercharging?

I think it’s important to quickly go over the basic differences between turbocharging and supercharging. Both offer “forced induction” for piston engines. A naturally aspirated engine simply will draw in atmospheric air as the intake valve opens, and the piston travels down to bottom dead center. A forced induction engine, pushes more air into the cylinder than what the dropping of the piston would pull in, allowing more air to be combusted, and thus generating more power and efficiency. While turbochargers and superchargers are both forced induction , how superchargers and turbochargers go about compressing that air is different. Superchargers are driven by the engine themselves, typically via a belt or gear. This uses some of the engine’s available horsepower, but doing so provides more horsepower back to the engine. The compressors can be either positive displacement configurations (such as a Roots or Twin-Screw), or a  centrifugal supercharger.

supercharger configurations
A very helpful image of the 3 kinds of superchargers, courtesy of MechanicalBooster.com

Turbochargers, as mentioned before, use the air from the exhaust of the engine to drive a turbine, and the work of the turbine is transmitted on a common shaft to a compressor. The most common configuration is a radial turbine driving a centrifugal compressor similar to the one above in the supercharger diagram. However, there are other configurations ,seen in larger examples, such as an axial turbine driving a centrifugal compressor. Read More

A Century of Chiller Technology

A convergence of technologies had to occur to make the modern, high-efficiency centrifugal chiller a reality. To appreciate the technology fully, we must go back in history and understand the origins of the air conditioning and refrigeration industry. Along the way, we will find an important diversion in aerospace and the critically important centrifugal compressor. Ultimately, we will find that the modern chiller is a testament to advanced technology that was developed in multiple fields.

Some of the first advances in and applications of modern industrial refrigeration were in the United States. In May 1922, Willis Carrier revealed the “Centrifugal Refrigeration Machine” – a very early incarnation of what we now call a chiller [1]. The first installation went to a Philadelphia candy manufacturer; it’s interesting to know that the birth of modern refrigeration and air conditioning started on a large scale. Back in those days, economy of scale enabled the technology to be developed. It was not until a decade later that the core technology began to be adopted into compact units that could be used in smaller businesses such as boutique shops. It took several more decades for smaller residential air conditioners to take off commercially.

Shown in the photograph below is Carrier’s first centrifugal chiller in his New Jersey factory [1].

First Centrifugal Chiller
Photo from [1]
The size of this machine is evident, as is the fact that its design, at the time, necessitated components be spread out in space for assembly and maintenance. By modern standards, the same footprint space could be used to accommodate a modern chiller with over 500 refrigeration tons in capacity. By comparison the original design has less than 100 refrigeration tons of capacity.

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Modeling a Ground Source Heat Pump

Ground source heat pumps (GSHP) are one of the fastest growing applications of renewable energy in the world, with annual increase of 10% in about 30 countries over the past 15 years.  Its main advantage is that it uses normal ground or ground water temperatures to provide heating, cooling and domestic hot water for residential and commercial buildings. GSHP’s are proving to be one of the most reliable and cost-effective heating/cooling systems that are currently available on the market and have the potential of becoming the heating system of choice to many future consumers, because of its capacity for providing a variety of services such as heat generation, hot water, humidity control, and air cooling. Additionally,  they have the potential to reduce primary energy consumption, and subsequently provide lower carbon emissions, as well as operate more quietly and have a longer life span than traditional HVAC systems. The costs associated with GSHP systems are gradually decreasing every year due to successive technological improvements, which makes them more appealing to new consumers.

The basic purpose of a GSHP is to transfer heat from the ground (or a body of water) to the inside of a building. The heat pump’s process can be reversed, in which case it will extract heat from the building and release it into the ground. Thus, the ground is the main heat source and sink. During winter, the ground will provide the heat whereas in the summer it will absorb the heat.

A GSHP comes in two basic configurations: ground-coupled (closed-loop) and groundwater (open loop) systems, which are installed horizontally and vertically, or in wells and lakes. The type chosen depends upon various factors such as the soil and rock type at the installation, the heating and cooling load required, the land available as well as the availability of a water well, or the feasibility of creating one. Figure 1 shows the diagrams of these systems.

Two Basic Configurations
Figure 1. Two Basic Configurations of GSHP Systems. SOURCE: [1]
In the ground-coupled system (Figure 1a), a closed loop of pipe, placed either horizontally (1 to 2 m deep) or vertically (50 to 100 m deep), is placed in the ground and a water-antifreeze solution is circulated through the plastic pipes to either collect heat from the ground in the winter or reject heat to the ground in the summer. The open loop system (Figure 1b), runs groundwater or lake water directly in the heat exchanger and then discharges it into another well, stream, lake, or on the ground depending upon local laws. Between the two, ground-coupled (closed loop) GSHP’s are more popular because they are very adaptable.
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Engineering Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder

Today, landspeeders we look at!


Landspeeders belong to the “repulsorlift” transport class, like the podracers we looked at last year, and travel above a world’s surface (up to 2 meters) without contact (very useful on swampy lands like Dagobah). Landspeeders are the successors to the hanno speeder which was mainly used as a racing vehicle with many Tatooine natives still using them to race in the Boona Eve Classic today.

Luke Skywalkers Soro Suub Corporation X-34 landspeeder
Figure 1:  Luke Skywalker’s Soro Suub Corporation X-34 landspeeder from the 1977 film – Note, the Soro Suub Corporation was your main go-to landspeeder designer and manufacturer before and during the reign of the Galactic Empire even though it specialized mostly in mineral processing. Image source

Landspeeders are found in both civilian and military applications but due to intergalactic ITAR regulations we will only cover the civil aspect here with a focus on the most famous of them all. If you want to know more about our experience working with military, defense and governmental organizations (whether you area part of the Empire, Rebels, Resistance or Separatists) feel free to contact us.

The Famous X-34

Luke Skywalker’s X-34, with its 6 selectable hover heights, features an engine consisting of 3 air-cooled thrust gas turbines able to reach a top speed of about 155 mph. The side engines are also used for steering although it is not obvious whether this steering is achieved by varying their thrust to be asymmetric or through vectoring of their exhaust. With the X-34 total length being 3.4 meters it helps us estimate the overall dimensions of its engines which are, each, roughly 80 cm long by 30 cm wide. Read More

Turbomachinery System and Component Training: Something for Everyone!

Mechanical engineering is an ever-changing field, and we want to be there to help engineers stay ahead of the curve, even while they are flattening it. In that spirit, we wanted to share with you our different training options that are available now. Whether you are looking to brush up on the fundamentals, or evaluate a software platform, this is a great time to train and explore the latest and greatest in turbomachinery engineering.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Private Corporate Trainings Online

First and foremost, the best most comprehensive training you can get from SoftInWay is a private session with one of SoftInWay’s lead engineers and your team. Why is this the best training option? A couple of reasons:

  • Courses are entirely customizable: The scope of these private training courses is tailored to your specific needs. Are you looking to learn the fundamentals? Or perhaps you want to expand your team’s R&D capabilities when it comes to turbomachinery, rotor dynamics, and 1D thermal systems? Whatever the application, we’ll work with you to develop a course curriculum which brings the most value to you and your team.
  • One-on-one consultation with our expert engineers on individual projects and challenges. Our engineering expertise ranges from flowpath design on a turbomachine, to rotor dynamics, as well as secondary flows/multiphase flows, and other all-encompassing projects such as liquid rocket engine design.
  • ll registrants get a 1-month license of the relevant AxSTREAM modules. During the class, users will be familiarized with the ins and outs of AxSTREAM, and be able to make use of AxSTREAM’s capabilities for 1 month afterwards.

The class can be as long or as short as you need and scheduled around you and your team. Read More

Vapor-Compression Refrigeration Systems

Present day refrigeration is viewed as a necessity to keep our popsicles cold and our perishables fresh. But have you ever wondered what people did to keep their food from spoiling hundreds or even thousands of years ago? Or just what goes into a refrigerator system today? In this blog, we’ll take a look at how refrigeration works; the history behind it; and examine the cycle, working fluids, and components.

Schematic of Refridgeration System in AxSTREAM NET
Figure 1. Modern-day Refrigeration System in AxSTREAM NET

Refrigeration is based on the two basic principles of evaporation and condensation. When liquid evaporates it absorbs heat and when liquid condenses, it releases heat. Once you have these principles in mind, understanding how a refrigerator works becomes much more digestible (pun intended). A modern-day refrigerator consists of components such as a condenser, compressor, evaporator and expansion valve, as well as a working fluid (refrigerant). The refrigerant is a liquid which as enters the expansion valve the rapid drop in pressure makes it expand, cool, and turn into a gas. As the refrigerant flows in the evaporator, it absorbs and removes heat from the surrounding. The compressor then compresses (as the name suggests) the fluid, raising its temperature and pressure. From here, the refrigerant flows through the condenser, releasing the heat into the air and cooling the gas back down to a liquid. Finally, the refrigerant enters the expansion valve and the cycle repeats. But what did we do before this technology was available to us?

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Series on Micro Gas Turbines And How They Can Make the World Greener

Next Blog

If you’re familiar with turbomachinery, then you probably know the pivotal role they play in our lives. If you’re not, no biggie! Have a look at this blog where I discuss a world without turbomachinery. But where do microturbines fit in? I can’t speak for anyone else, but my mind immediately jumps to turbochargers in small-displacement car engines. There is, however, a whole slew of information, history, and applications for microturbines beyond being a component in your car.

The best place to start, is to establish just what a microturbine is and isn’t. Granted the prefix in the word is a dead giveaway, but just how small is a micro gas turbine?  In terms of power output, a micro gas turbine puts out between 25 and 500 kW. The size of these machines varies; some systems can be the size of a refrigerator, while others can fit on your desk. For reference, some of these machines are smaller than your average corgi!

Micro Gas Turbine and Corgi
Figure 1: A micro gas turbine with a pencil for scale (left) and your average corgi (right). Not very aerodynamic, but awfully cute. Source

In terms of components, microturbines typically consist of a compressor, combustor, turbine, alternator, generator, and in most machines, a recuperator. While incorporating a recuperator into a microturbine system comes with its own set of challenges, the benefits are often well worth it as efficiency when recuperated hovers around 25-30% (with a waste heat recovery/cogeneration system, efficiency levels can reach up to 85% though).

Figure 3: A commercial airliner's turbofan engine the common image that is conjured when one thinks of turbines in transportation
Figure 3: A commercial airliner’s turbofan engine; the common image that is conjured when one thinks of turbines in transportation.

When and how did the concept of micro gas turbines come about? After the advent of the jet engine in World War II and the prominence of turbochargers being used on piston-driven propeller planes during the war, companies started to see where else gas turbine technology could be utilized. Starting in the 1950’s automotive companies attempted to offer scaled down gas turbines for use in personal cars, and you can read our blog covering that more in-depth here. You can probably guess by the number of gas turbine-powered cars on the road today, that it wasn’t very successful.

Fast forward to the 1970s, companies started to take an interest in micro turbines for stationary power generation on a small, portable scale. Allison developed microturbine-powered generators for the military that showed substantially lower fuel consumption in initial testing. In the 80’s, GRI supported the AES program where they attempted to develop a 50kW turbine for aviation applications, using a heat recovery system to improve efficiency through a cogeneration system. More recently, companies like Capstone have worked with GRI on new projects to introduce microturbines to different industries where they could be useful, using the latest advancements in technology to ensure higher efficiencies and reliability of designs past. To discuss the current state of affairs for microturbines however, it might be good to list some of their present advantages and drawbacks, and then explore where in the world they could be most useful.

Micro Turbine Compressor
Figure 4: A micro turbine compressor model.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Microturbines

As with just about any other type of technology, microturbines have their own set of advantages and disadvantages as a result of their design that are seen in their different applications.


  • – Lower emissions
  • – Lower noise level than comparable reciprocating engines
  • – Fewer moving parts with results in less maintenance needs
  • – Lower vibration levels
  • – Ligherweight, compact systems
  • – Diverse fuel selection (jet fuel, kerosene, diesel, natural gas)



  • – Very low efficiency without recuperator/waste heat recovery system
  • – High work requires high speeds (30-120 krpm) for small diameters
  • – Poor throttle response
  • – Expensive materials required for manufacturing
  • – More sensitive to adverse operating conditions


A Micro Gas Turbine
Figure 5: A Microturbine
Potential Transportation Industry Applications

There are a number of different industries which microturbines can be found both in and outside of the transportation. Throughout the upcoming months, we’ll be taking a closer look at:

  • – The Aviation Industry
  • – The Automotive Industry
  • – The Marine Industry
  • – The Rail Industry


Each of these industries has at least one application where micro gas turbine technology has the potential to conserve fuel and lower emissions without compromising power. In the next entry, we’ll look at the current state of the aerospace industry and where/how micro gas turbines can improve upon existing technology.

If you want to learn more about designing a micro gas turbine, or about the tools our engineers and thousands of others around the world rely on for their turbomachinery designs, reach out to us at info@softinway.com

Next Blog

Thermal Management in Automotive Electric Propulsion Systems

There is a growing interest in electric and hybrid-electric vehicles propulsion system due to environmental concerns. Efforts are directed towards developing an improved propulsion system for electric and hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs) for various applications in the automotive industry. The government authorities consider electric vehicles one of several current drive technologies that can be used to achieve the long-term sustainability goals of reducing emissions. Therefore, it is no longer a question of whether vehicles with electric technologies will prevail, but when will they become a part of everyday life on our streets. Electric vehicles (EVs) fall into two main categories: vehicles where an electric motor replaces an internal combustion engine (full-electric) and vehicles which feature an internal combustion engine (ICE) assisted by an electric motor (hybrid-electric or HEVs). All electric vehicles contain large, complex, rechargeable batteries, sometimes called traction batteries, to provide all or a portion of the vehicle’s propelling power.

EVs propulsion system offers several advantages compared to the conventional propulsion systems (petrol or diesel engines). EVs not only help reduce the environmental emissions but also help reduce the external noise, vibration, operating cost, fuel consumption while increasing safety levels, performance and efficiency of the overall propulsion system. However, there are many reasons why EVs and HEVs currently represent such a low share of today’s automotive market. For EVs, the most important factor is their shorter driving range, the lack of recharging infrastructure and recharging time, limited battery life, and a higher initial cost. Though HEVs feature a growing driving range, performance and comfort equivalent or better than internal combustion engine vehicles, their initial cost is higher and the lack of recharging infrastructure is a great barrier for their diffusion. Therefore, industry, government, and academia must strive to overcome the huge barriers that block EVs widespread use: battery energy and power density, battery weight and price, and battery recharging infrastructure. All major manufacturers in the automotive industry are working to overcome all these limitations in the near future.

Common Types of Electric Vehicles
Classification of EVs according to the types and combination of energy converters used
Figure 1. Classification of EVs according to the types and combination of energy converters used (electric motor & ICE). SOURCE:[3]
A more universal EVs classifications is carried out based on either the energy converter types used to propel the vehicles or the vehicles power and function [4]. When referring to the energy converter types, by far the most used EVs classification, two big classes are distinguished, as shown in Figure 1, namely: battery electric vehicles (BEVs), also named pure or full-electric vehicle, and hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs). BEVs use batteries to store the energy that will be transformed into mechanical power by electric motors only, i.e., ICE is not present. In HEVs, propulsion is the result of the combined actions of electric motor and ICE. The different manners in which the hybridization can occur give rise to different architectures such as: series hybrid, parallel hybrid, and series-parallel hybrid. All these different EVs architectures are shown in Figure 2.

Architectures of different EVs and HEVs
Figure 2. Architectures of different EVs and HEVs. SOURCE:[3]
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Choosing the Right Turbomachinery Component

Traditionally the engineering process starts with Front End Engineering Design (FEED) which is essentially the conceptual design to realize the feasibility of the project and to get an estimate of the investments required. This step is also a precursor to defining the scope for Engineering Procurement and Construction Activities (EPC). Choosing the right EPC consultant is crucial as this shapes the final selection of the equipment in the plant including turbomachinery.

Large thermal power machine

Choosing the right component for the right application is not an easy task. Too many times, one ends up choosing a component that is not the best choice by far. This is quite true when we look at component selections in the process industries compared to those in a power plant where the operating conditions are more or less constant. This improper selection of components is due to multiple reasons such as: insufficient research and studies; limitation of time, resources, budget etc. Read More

Preventing Choke and Surge in a Compressor

Turbo Compressors are used to increase the pressure of a gas, which are required in propulsion systems like a gas turbine, as well as many production processes in the energy sectors, and various other important industries such as the oil and gas, chemical industries, and many more.

Such compressors are highly specific to the working fluid used (gas) and the specific operating conditions of the processes for which they are designed. This makes them very expensive. Thus, such turbo compressors should be designed and operate with high level of care and accuracy to avoid any failure and to extract the best performance possible from the machine.

Axial Compressor and Centrifugal Compressor in AxSTREAM
Figure 1 (A) Axial Compressor (B) Centrifugal Compressor in AxSTREAM®

Turbo Compressor Characteristic Curves

The characteristic curves of any turbo compressor define the operating zone for the compressor at different speed lines and is limited by the two phenomenon called choke and surge. These two opposing constraints can be seen in Figure 2.

Choke conditions occurs when a compressor operates at the maximum mass flow rate. Maximum flow happens as the Mach number reaches to unity at some part of the compressor, i.e. as it reaches sonic velocity, the flow is said to be choked. In other words, the maximum volume flow rate in compressor passage is limited by limited size of the throat region.  Generally, this calculation is important for applications where high molecular weight fluids are involved in the compression process.

Surge is the characteristic behavior of a turbo compressor at low flow rate conditions where a complete breakdown of steady flow occurs. Due to a surge, the outlet pressure of the compressor is reduced drastically, and results in flow reversal from discharge to suction. It is an undesirable phenomenon that can create high vibrations, damage the rotor bearings, rotor seals, compressor driver and affect the entire cycle operation.

Compressor Performance Curve
Figure 2 Compressor Performance Curve

Preventing Choke and Surge Conditions

Both choke conditions and surge conditions are undesirable for optimal operation of a turbo compressor.  Each condition must be considered during design to ensure these conditions are prevented. Read More