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.
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