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6 Different Turbocharger Types and the Benefits of Each Configuration
The world of turbocharging is as diverse as engine design. Let’s see the different styles:
1. Single turbo
Only individual turbochargers are fully variable. Differentiator and compressor wheel size differentiation lead to utterly different torque characteristics. Large turbos produce high peak power, but smaller turbos deliver better low-end grunt as they spool up faster. There are also individual turbos with ball manners and plain bearings. Ball bearings provide less friction when spinning the compressor and turbine, so they roll up faster (while also increasing cost).
Economical way to increase engine power and efficiency.
Simple, usually the easiest compressor option to install.
It allows smaller engines to produce the same power as larger naturally aspirated engines, which can often save weight.
Individual turbos tend to have a relatively narrow actual RPM range. It kinds scope and material, as you have to choose between good low-end torque or better top-end power.
Turbo response may not remain as quick as alternative turbo setups.
2. Twin Turbo
As with single turbochargers, there are many options when using two turbochargers. For example, you could have a single turbocharger for each bank of cylinders (V6, V8, etc.). Alternatively, a single turbocharger can be used for low speeds and branched off to a larger turbocharger (I4, I6, etc.) for high rates. You might even have two similarly sized turbos, one used at low rpm and both at higher rpm. For example, twin-scroll turbos are use in the BMW X5 M and X6 M, one on each side of the V8.
With parallel twin turbos in “V” shaped engines, the pros (and cons) are very similar to single turbo setups.
With sequential turbos, or using one turbo at low rpm and both at high rpm, this allows for a much broader and flatter torque curve. Hence, better torque at low rpm, but power doesn’t drop off at high rpm like a single small turbo.
Since the turbo components, costs and effort were almost doubled.
There are more accessible and efficient methods to achieve similar results (as discussed below).3. Twin-Scroll Turbo
3. Dual-Scroll Turbo
Twin-scroll turbochargers are better than single-scroll turbochargers in almost every way. The exhaust pulses are divid using two spiral springs. For example, in four-cylinder trains (firing order 1-3-4-2), cylinders 1 and 4 can provide turbocharger displacement, while cylinders 2 and 3 provide separate removal. Why is it beneficial? Suppose cylinder 1 completes its power stroke as the piston approaches the bottom dead center, and the exhaust valve begins to open.
More energy remains sent to the exhaust turbine, which means more power.
Based on different displacement designs, a more comprehensive, effective boost rpm range is possible.
More significant valve overlap is possible without impeding exhaust gas evacuation, which means greater tuning flexibility.
It requires a specific engine and exhaust layout (e.g., I4 and V8, where two cylinders can be fed to any turbo displacement at regular intervals).
Cost and complexity compared to traditional single turbos.
4. Variable Geometry Turbocharger (Vgt)
One of the rarest forms of supercharging, VGTs are in limited production due to cost and exotic material requirements (although they are pretty standard in diesel engines). Internal vanes inside the turbocharger change the area-to-radius (A/R) ratio to match rpm. A low A/R ratio is used at low revs to increase exhaust gas velocity and quickly accelerate the turbocharger. As the rpm increases, the A/R ratio increases to allow more airflow. The result is low turbo lag, a bass boost threshold, and a wide, smooth torque range.
Wide and flat torque curve. Efficient boosting over an extensive rev range.
It only requires one turbo, simplifying a sequential turbo setup into something more compact.
Typically only used in diesel applications where the exhaust is lower to prevent heat damage to the guide vanes.
The cost usually drives them away from gasoline application because exotic metals must be use to maintain reliability. However, the technology was used in the Porsche 997, although very few VGT petrol engines exist due to the costs involved.
5. Variable Twin-Scroll Turbocharger
Could this remain the answer we were to create? While joining SEMA 2015, I stopped through the BorgWarner booth to check the latest turbochargers. Concepts include the twin-scroll variable turbo, as detailed in the video above.
Significantly cheaper (in theory) than VGTs, creating a good case for gasoline turbocharging.
Allows a wide and flat torque curve.
More robust design compared to a VGT depending on the choice of material.
Cost and complexity compared to using a traditional twin-scroll or single turbo.
The technology has been used in the past (e.g., a fast slide valve) but doesn’t seem to catch on in the production world. As a result, there will likely be additional challenges with technology.
6. Electric Turbochargers
Adding a powerful electric motor into the mix eliminates nearly all of the drawbacks of a turbocharger. Turbo lag? Faded away. Not enough shows? No problem. Can’t the turbo produce torque at low revs? You can get it now! But, perhaps in the next phase of modern turbocharging, there are certainly downsides to the electric route.
By connecting an electric motor directly to the compressor move, turbo lag and low exhaust emissions can be virtually eliminate by running the compressor on electrical power when needed.
The lost energy can be recovere by connecting an electric motor to the exhaust turbine (like Formula 1).
Cost and complexity as you now need to consider the electric motor and ensure it stays cool to avoid reliability issues. It also applies to added controllers.
Packaging and weight become an issue, especially when adding an onboard battery needed to provide enough power to the turbo.
VGTs, or dual reels, can offer similar benefits (but not on the same level) at a significantly lower cost.