A brief history on Turbochargers

Updated: Aug 21, 2021

Turbocharging is widely used in the automotive industry to lower exhaust emissions & to improve the fuel efficiency and power output of the engine.

Back in 1860, Belgian inventor called Jean Joseph Lenoir came up with the first working engine. After many attempts he managed to develop a system in which the pistons sliding inside a cylinder connected to a rod mounted on a crankshaft that rotates a flywheel fast enough to provide momentum to power a vehicle.

In 1876, German engineer Nicolaus Otto came up with a four-cycle engine based on the findings of Jean Joseph Lenoir. This engine announced the forthcoming of the modern combustion engines. In 1900 at the Exposition Universal fair in Paris, Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his engine concept. This engine used an open flame in a tube or a spark inside the cylinder to burn the gasoline and fuel mixture. This combustion engine developed by Rudolf Diesel is a compression engine and was commonly known as the spark ignition engine. This creation relied on extremely high pressure at the cylinder chamber. It had almost six times the compression ratio of the internal combustion engine developed by Nicolus Otto, thus allowing the intense heat to ignite the fuel.

Most of the engines are falling under the internal combustion category. Internal combustion engines are also known as normally aspirated or naturally aspirated engines. What happens is the engines inhale air when needed to mix with fuel to allow combustion.

The air and fuel mixture then enters the engine through carburettors or a fuel injection system at the atmospheric pressure rated at one bar. One bar pressure is equivalent to 14.5 pounds per square inch or 14.5psi at sea level. With time, the more powerful engines were required to get certain tasks done. This also meant that more aggressive forced induction engines required engine belts, chains, gears or an engine crankshaft to drive them. Supercharging systems were developed to address the more demanding compression requirements. Over the decades the supercharging system evolved and improved. In supercharging systems the air density is increased by increasing its pressure before entering the engine cylinder.

Turbocharging system was invented by a Swiss engineer called Alfred Buchi in 1905 while working for the Gebruder Sulzer. Rudolf Diesel interned years before going on his own way to develop the Diesel engine. Alfred Buchi came up with a new way to increase the flow of the fuel and air mixture to the cylinders, thus increasing the performance. His patent was described as an exhaust driven turbo supercharger for internal combustion engines or as a pre-compressor for the cylinders through a cooling system of inlet air and fuel mixture. In 1915 he finished the first prototype. This was suppose to solve the loss of power experienced by aircraft engines due to decreased density of air at high altitudes. However, the system wasn't a success due to reliability issues, and required constant developments and research.

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