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Turbo: Real World High-Performance Turbocharger Systems
Turbo: Real World High-Performance Turbocharger Systems
Turbo: Real World High-Performance Turbocharger Systems
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Turbo: Real World High-Performance Turbocharger Systems

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Those who want to increase the performance of their existing turbo system, or want to add a turbo to an existing engine, have never had so many resources to choose from. This book is the most complete, up-to-date resource on anything dealing with turbochargers. No matter the engine, this book will teach design, testing, installing, and maintaining your turbo system.
PublisherS-A Design
Release dateJul 14, 2008
Turbo: Real World High-Performance Turbocharger Systems
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    Turbo - Jay K Miller



    The turbocharger is the single most significant engine component or add-on device for increasing horsepower in the internal combustion engine. There may be arguments to the contrary, but I make this statement with good reason. To fully understand this concept, it’s important to look at an engine in a very fundamental way.

    An engine is first an air pump. But its primary purpose is a device that converts the combustion of various types of fuel into mechanical energy so that it may be used in a constructive and controlled manner. This conversion of thermal energy into mechanical energy is performed by several simple machines contained within the engine. The specifics of this series of simple machines within the engine vary by design and constitute the differences between particular engine types. Clearly some designs are better than others, but that is a separate issue.

    The Banks Twin Turbo Small Block Chevy is perhaps the world’s most recognizable twin-turbocharged engine assembly. (Courtesy Gale Banks Engineering)

    For non-turbocharged engines, breathing is a challenge. This is evident in the NHRA Pro Stock ranks, a racing class where turbos are not allowed. These engines arguably represent the ultimate in power producers among all engines that do not use a forced air induction system. Most advanced engine builders agree with the fact that engine design considerations within the short block relative to improving airflow are basically maxed-out. For Pro Stock competitors, the trade secrets for increasing airflow lie within the intake manifold and cylinder head design. That’s where all of the work and technology is applied in a naturally aspirated engine simply because these engines lack forced air induction.

    However, the fundamental aspect of an engine as an air pump is the key to horsepower development. The more air that an engine can pump, the more horsepower it can develop. It’s important to always remember however, that more air doesn’t make horsepower—more fuel does. As a general rule, getting more fuel into an engine usually isn’t the problem; getting enough air to burn it is. Any engine design can produce more power with the addition of a turbocharger, but only within the limits of its ability to cope with the stresses of producing additional horsepower.

    Understanding How a Turbo System Works

    Horsepower is only produced by the combustion of fuel. Therefore, the more fuel that is burned, the greater the horsepower produced. But the fuel can only be productively burned if it is burned in the engine’s cylinders and there has to be enough air present to do this. We live in an atmosphere that, at sea level, contains 14.7 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. This means that an engine’s ability to breath is limited by the vacuum, or suction, created by the intake stroke of the engine’s piston, fed by a maximum pressure of approximately 15 psi. So, even in the most miraculously efficient engine design, there can only be a maximum pressure differential between atmosphere and the intake valve of about 15 psi absolute pressure. And since few of us live and drive on the beach, we have even less than 15 psi to work with. As you rise in altitude atmospheric pressure drops.

    Now comes the turbocharger. In the most basic definition, a turbocharger is a device that drives more air into an engine. The 15 psi of absolute pressure is now boosted to something greater, and thus more air is forced into the engine’s cylinders. Now the fuel delivery rate can be increased and more horsepower will be developed. In many cases, a turbocharger can deliver enough additional airflow such that the same size engine can easily produce 100 percent or more horsepower than in its naturally aspirated, or non-boosted, state.

    Turbocharger, supercharger, turbo-supercharger, and blower, among other names, are technically correct when referring to any of several different types of devices that perform the principal function in a forced air induction intake system on an internal combustion engine. But among enthusiasts, power wizards, bench racers, and even a few well-read squirrels, supercharger and blower are used synonymously to refer to devices that increase the intake pressure and are powered directly off of the engine’s crankshaft. This book principally concerns itself with the turbocharger, which derives its power from exhaust gas energy through the use of a gas turbine. This difference in technology is the basis for great debate among the performance community about the superiority of superchargers versus turbos. Historically, each device has areas of supremacy over the other, but those areas of application superiority are beginning to narrow, as this book will outline in forthcoming chapters.

    This illustration shows a simple aftercooled single turbo system. Let’s follow the intake airflow to see how it works. (Courtesy Honeywell Turbo Technologies)

    A. After the intake air passes through the air filter it is routed to the turbocharger’s compressor inlet (1).

    B. The air is then compressed, which increases its density—or amount of mass per unit of volume—by the turbo’s compressor section, and is discharged through a boost tube (2).

    C. Most of today’s turbo systems use an aftercooler, also known as an intercooler or charge-air cooler, to receive the hot, boosted air as it leaves the compressor. The cooler removes the excess heat, which allows for further air density improvements while also cooling the intake air charge (3).

    D. Another boost tube then routes the air from the cooler’s discharge side to the engine’s intake manifold where the air is routed to the intake valves and it enters each cylinder (4).

    E. An increased fuel injection charge, based upon the now more dense air charge, is introduced and combustion occurs. After combustion, the exhaust passes through the exhaust valve and into the exhaust manifold (5).

    F. The exhaust manifold routes the exhaust gas energy in the form of heat and pressure into the turbine stage of the turbocharger (6).

    G. The turbine housing causes backpressure. This backpressure and heat expand against the turbine wheel blades causing the turbine wheel and shaft to spin, which in turn drives the compressor wheel on the intake side of the system. The remaining exhaust then leaves the turbine stage and enters the exhaust system (7).

    Turbochargers reign supreme for one simple reason: The turbocharger is the most efficient of all the economically applied forced air induction devices. Unlike the supercharger, which takes power directly off of the crankshaft to drive its compressor, the turbocharger utilizes energy present in the exhaust gas that would otherwise be wasted by simply pumping it into the atmosphere. But even though a turbo uses exhaust gas energy that is commonly referred to as waste energy, there is a cost of using this energy that comes from the increased backpressure formed in the exhaust. Individuals applying turbos to engines frequently overlook the concept of pumping losses. Well, there is no free lunch. The relationship between backpressure and turbos are an important concept that must be balanced and is dealt with in greater depth when we get into matching a turbo to a specific engine (Chapter 3).

    A Brief History

    According to most, the turboch-arger is credited to a Swiss engineer named Alfred Buechi. It was Buechi’s application for patent of a compound motor in 1905 that started the ball rolling. This patent did not describe the turbocharger as it is known today, but rather an axial flow turbine and compressor that shared a common shaft with the engine they were applied to. This early design was not a commercial success but gave rise to further developments in the area of use of gas turbines and compressors aiding engine performance.

    Alfred Buechi, inventor of the turbocharger. (Courtesy ABB Turbo Systems LTD. Baden, Switzerland)

    It wasn’t until 1916 when Professor Auguste C.E. Rateau, the French inventor of a then well-known steam turbine, applied for a patent. The patent, however, was not published until 1921. Meanwhile, during late 1917, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, to consider rapid development of the turbocharger to support the war effort, approached Sanford A. Moss of General Electric (there is no known collaboration between Rateau and Moss). Research was carried out at Pikes Peak in Colorado, approximately 4,250 meters above sea level. At that time there were altitude test chambers for aircraft engines, but not for an engine, a turbocharger, a propeller, and all the accessories. Tests proved that sea level power could successfully be attained at altitude with a turbo, making turbocharging a solution for military aircraft to achieve higher speeds and altitudes.

    The end of World War I slowed turbo development, but it provided time to consider design and testing issues. General Electric continued its research. During the World War II, Moss’s turbochargers were used extensively in aircraft and bombers like the well-known B-17 Flying Fortress. The turbocharger certainly had its contribution to the war effort and made a significant contribution to the Allied victory.

    As with so many products and ideas, necessity is the mother of invention. The turbocharger is no exception. If engines are to be applied to a variety of uses, breathing is fundamental to their success. The internal combustion engine has reshaped our world and the turbocharger has helped the engine accomplish that task.

    The Rise to Popularity

    The postwar era saw little use of turbochargers at first, but gradually the turbocharger became a sought after component as postwar expansion gave rise to great economical development. Commercial manufacturers employing diesel engines, such as the Caterpillar Tractor Company realized that there was a constant increasing need for more power from their machinery. Without turbochargers, achieving power objectives would drive up engine size and cost. Certainly, a manufacturer who had twice the engine power versus a competitor would have a significant advantage.

    The 1950s and ’60s saw a significant growth in turbo use. The primary growth took place in commercial diesel engines. This spawned the rapid growth of companies that would specialize in the development of turbocharging technology worldwide. The postwar economic expansion spawned rapid commercial growth, and more uses for turbochargers brought about expanded research and development from commercial competitors, which bring us to the modern era of turbo technology.

    As turbo reliability and designs improved, the applications for turbos expanded. The muscle car era of the ’60s saw Detroit attempting to turbocharge a few gasoline automobiles such as the Chevy Corvair Monza and the Oldsmobile Jetfire. These applications were problematic at best. There are many opinions as to why turbochargers failed on this first attempt with production automobiles, but I maintain that the reasons are many.

    The current Schwitzer-BorgWarner model S3 on the left has a slightly higher airflow range than the older Schwitzer model made in the ’60s for Cummins Engine Company. While the intended applications are different, it’s easy to see the dramatic design differences that have come about from computer-aided designs, improved materials, and manufacturing processes. (Courtesy Diesel Injection Service Company, Inc.)

    The available engines were not designed to be turbocharged and there wasn’t a wealth of turbo application experience in the industry as it related to passenger cars. The turbo design that had to be considered for use on a carbureted engine had problems with durability and getting the fuel flow correct was problematic. Consumers could get all the horsepower they wanted with larger-displacement engines, high compression ratios, high-lift cams, and more. The Baby Boomer gear-heads weren’t ready for turbos. Besides, with gasoline at only 20 cents a gallon, who cared that you only got 6–8 mpg. Mileage concerns were for wimps! Wanna go fast? Cubic inches could get you there.

    When the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s hit, spurred on by the clean-air act of 1977, Detroit began to focus on fuel efficiency and lower exhaust emissions. Smaller engines began showing up to burn less fuel and give consumers greater economy. But Americans still wanted their horsepower.

    In the 1980s, Detroit returned to turbocharging as a way to achieve higher horsepower and performance for the now smaller engine packages. While some applications became famous such as the Buick Grand National, there were still problems in turbo land. The high exhaust temperatures seen in gasoline engines and poor maintenance by consumers weren’t the only challenges.

    The technical problems associated with turbocharging by the average do-it-yourselfer mostly centered on the issue of whether to pull through or blow through the carburetor. If you used a blow-through method you would maintain optimum placement of the fuel distribution from the carburetor, through the manifold. But the problems associated with this method include boost enrichment of the fuel flow, because a carburetor senses airflow, not air density.

    The pull-through method was favored by most application engineers because the turbo’s compressor was located downstream of the carburetor. This position in the system meant that the carburetor could sense the increase in volumetric airflow that was feeding the compressor prior to the turbo increasing the air density by building boost. In this way a separate boost-enrichement system for fuel to increase during boost conditions was not necessary, the carburetor mostly took care of it. The pull-through method, however, still had its problems because the air and gas mixture was run through the turbo’s compressor. This meant that the compressor cover must be tightly sealed with gasket sealer and/or an O-ring to the bearing housing so that raw gasoline could not leak out since it was now pressurized. The compressor would also act as a centrifuge to separate the gas from the air since the air and fuel dropets have different specific gravities. In addition, since the compressor was routed downstream of the carburetor’s throttle plate, the compressor was subjected to engine vacuum during light loads, or partial-throttle, no-boost conditions. Under such conditions, engine oil would be literally sucked right out of the turbo and into the engine. In order to solve that problem, positive type carbon face oil seals were used on compressors, but they were notorious for short life. Further, the drag on the turbine shaft caused by the positive type seals consumed a portion of the turbine’s power, thereby lowering the available energy to drive the compressor.

    The rapid introduction of electronic fuel injection to gas engines in the ’80s was the great enabler. Electronic fuel injection meant no carburetor and no carburetor meant easier turbo retrofits! Aftermarket turbo systems could now be more easily installed. This led to a dramatic increase in interest in aftermarket turbo setups.

    Understanding the Turbocharger

    Understanding how a turboch-arger works is fundamental to the successful application of a turbo and to matching it to an engine correctly. Perhaps the best way to understand how a turbo works is to break it down into its primary sections. This is done in great detail in Chapter 2. But as a preview, the turbocharger simplified has basically three areas of design: the turbine, the compressor, and the bearing system that ties the compressor and turbine ends together. Each of these areas is interdependent on the other for overall turbocharger effectiveness, but they are each developed as discrete machines. Turbocharger manufacturers commonly separate the design engineering teams into areas of specialization where you will find turbine development specialists, compressor specialists, and mechanical design specialists for bearing and support systems.

    The Turbine

    Let’s begin with the turbine. A turbocharger obtains its energy in the form of heat and pressure from the engine’s exhaust. Any given turbine has a designed set of parameters that dictate what amount of exhaust flow it is compatible with. A properly applied turbine will actually raise the backpressure in an engine’s exhaust system, which will, in turn, raise the pressure to drive the turbine and increase the heat in the exhaust system.

    The turbine has two principal components; the turbine wheel and the turbine housing. The exhaust from the engine is routed to the turbine through the exhaust manifold and enters the turbine inlet. The exhaust gas fills the turbine housing and creates a static pressure by way of a volute shaped turbine housing that feeds the turbine wheel at its tip or the inducer area of the turbine wheel. Since high pressure always seeks low pressure, the exhaust gas flows through the turbine wheel and the high-pressure gas expands as it travels through the turbine wheel. This exhaust gas expansion is what drives the turbine wheel in rotation inside the turbine housing.

    The turbine is the machine that extracts the energy present in the form of heat and pressure from the exhaust and converts it to mechanical energy via the turbine wheel’s rotation. Therefore, turbine design and efficiency is critical to overall turbocharger effectiveness as it relates to engine performance. Even more important than subtle design enhancements within the turbine is a properly sized turbine to correctly see the engine’s exhaust.

    This is a cutaway photo of a turbocharger showing the major sections of turbo design. (Courtesy Honeywell Turbo Technologies)

    The turbine section of a turbocharger consists primarily of the turbine wheel and turbine housing. This 120-degree cutaway section illustrates the turbine wheel position relative to the turbine housing. (Courtesy Diesel Injection Service Company, Inc.)

    The household garden hose is a simple analogy to help understand optimized flow matching. If you let the hose run with the end unrestricted it flows out in high volume and will typically run out 3 to 6 feet from the hose end. Now begin to restrict the hose end a little at a time and you find the pressure rising and the water sprays out farther and farther. It may spray as far as 30 to 40 feet. But if you continue to cover more and more of the hose, at some point you see a point of diminishing return. The water spray distance begins to drop off because you have restricted flow too much and all you have done is caused excessive backpressure beyond what was optimized for maximum flow pressure and volume.

    A turbine is sized for a given engine’s exhaust gas flow in much the same way. But since an engine operates at a variety of engine speeds, the challenges are more complex than the constant flow through the hose. For example, a given engine that is used in a street driven vehicle and reaches engine speeds of only 5,000 to 6,500 rpm may require one size turbine. The same engine designed to perform in a racing environment and operate at engine speeds of 7,000 to 9,000 rpm will need a completely different sized turbine.

    It’s extremely important to understand the turbine-to-engine-size relationship because all too often turbos are mismatched to engines based upon the premise that smaller turbines raise boost pressure. While that may be true, the point of diminishing return is often met or exceeded and a turbine housing that is too small is now robbing horsepower due to turbine choke and what is known as pumping losses (excessive backpressure). This will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3. But for now it is only important to understand this flow relationship and how a turbine can be sized too small as well as too large.

    The Compressor

    As the turbine wheel rotates from the hot high-pressure exhaust gas expanding through it, the wheel is connected to a shaft that has a compressor isolated at the opposite end. The compressor performs a job that is just the opposite of the turbine. The compressor’s job is to gather fresh air and raise its pressure before it enters the engine.

    The compressor also has two primary components: the compressor wheel and the compressor cover. The compressor wheel is a radial-type compressor, meaning that as the air enters the leading edge of the wheel called the inducer, it is accelerated and turns 90 degrees and exits the compressor wheel perpendicular to the turbine shaft that drives the compressor wheel. The energy extracted from the turbine is used for work to spin the compressor wheel that pulls air into the wheel and then compresses it.

    As the air leaves the compressor wheel it enters the portion of the compressor called the diffuser. The diffuser converts the air into static pressure and fills the compressor cover. The compressed air leaves the compressor cover and is routed by way of a boost tube directly into the engine or to an aftercooler, and then enters the engine.

    The compressor section of a turbocharger consists primarily of the compressor wheel and compressor cover. (Courtesy Diesel Injection Service Company, Inc.)

    The compressor has two functions. The first is to raise the intake pressure to aid the engine in its ability to breathe. Higher intake pressures allow for more complete filling of the engine cylinders with air. The other function is to increase air density. An engine reacts favorably to air density more than boost pressure, and air density is the primary objective of higher boost pressures. However, boost pressure is a critical element as well and is directly responsible for the increase in volumetric efficiency, a concept explained in greater detail in Chapter 3.

    An engine has a fixed amount of volumetric capacity or displacement. Therefore the air pressure and density must be increased so that the engine will flow a higher mass of air, which allows for a higher mass of fuel to be introduced. The boost pressure level for a given compressor is highly dependent upon that compressor’s ability to efficiently compress the air without adding excess heat. The concept of density is simply stated as follows: Density = mass per unit volume. Boost pressure will rise as a function of two variables: air temperature and air density. It is the air density increase that allows more fuel to be burned and therefore, more horsepower to be developed.

    If two sealed cans were both fitted with pressure gauges and one was heated, its pressure gauge would rise like boost pressure. However, there would be no higher air density in the heated can, just more heat and pressure. The excessive heat is not desirable, but is an example of what happens when the incorrect compressor is installed onto an engine. If an engine requires more air than the compressor can efficiently compress, the air gets extremely hot and engine problems, such as detonation, are more likely to occur.

    Proper sizing of the compressor is just as critical to maximizing engine performance as it is with the turbine. Each compressor design is trimmed to flow the amount of air compatible to an engine’s air requirement based upon that engine’s cubic inch displacement, volumetric efficiency, and operating RPM. A compressor that’s too small restricts the engine and limits horsepower. Likewise, a compressor that’s too large requires more power to spin than the turbine is capable of developing and thus will not spin fast enough to supply the airflow and pressure that compressor would otherwise be capable of developing. Thus there is a power balance that clearly becomes obvious and important between the compressor and turbine ends of the turbocharger.

    The Bearing System

    The turbine shaft is supported by a bearing system that links the turbine to the compressor. The bearing system is housed inside of a bearing housing that contains many design features critical to proper turbo operation. The bearing system has a tough job. It must support the turbine and compressor wheels as they rotate to speeds in excess of 100,000 rpm while surviving various gyrations induced by engine pulses that vary with engine speed and power output. In addition, the bearing system must also absorb not just radial loads but thrust, or axial loads as well. When turbine pressure exceeds compressor pressure or vise-versa, there is thrust on the bearing system. Pressure differentials that become too severe will fail a good turbocharger.

    The turbocharger bearing system is contained within the bearing housing. The bearing housing supports the turbine housing and compressor cover, while the turbine shaft and bearings support the rotational dynamics of the turbine and compressor wheels. Most turbocharger bearing systems are bronze type journal bearings that have oil passages to feed the hydrodynamic lubrication system, while many late-model high-performance turbos utilize specially designed ball-bearing cartridges.

    While there are many types of bearing systems they all must do this job while providing a minimum of drag or frictional loss of energy extracted from the turbine to power the compressor. The bearing housing is also home to many more design features that include oil control, gas seals, heat dams, and, in some designs, water jackets to keep extremely high exhaust temperatures away from the lubricating oil.

    Where and Why Turbos are Used Today

    The word turbo has been widely used to describe everything from computer software to shoes. Marketers use the word turbo to convey power, speed, and a superior level of performance. Those of us who work in the turbo industry see humor when somebody flips a switch labeled turbo and a sudden power surge is produced. It doesn’t work that way. While the term has been glamorized by this over use, there is good reason for it. The turbocharger has successfully worked itself into just about every engine application, with the exception of NHRA Top-Fuel Dragsters and Funny Cars, where they are banned outright.

    The turbocharger’s development was accelerated due to the need that aircraft had to achieve high horsepower levels in the thinner air seen at high altitude. Turbine speed increases about 2 percent per 1,000-foot increase in altitude. Both aircraft and commercial engine equipment benefit from this natural altitude compensation characteristic in turbochargers. The jet engine made the piston engine obsolete for most commercial passenger planes today, but turbos are still applied to lower-cost small aircraft that use piston engines.

    Today’s diesel engine, whether a large commercial diesel truck, earth-mover, or consumer diesel pickup, is turbocharged. The reasons are both for power and emissions. As Gale Banks says, A diesel engine is just not complete until it is turbocharged. The high-BTU (British thermal unit) property of diesel fuel makes it virtually impossible

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