The Rise of The Turbocharger

On the 16th of November 1905 a rather clever Swiss inventor called Dr Alfred Buchi received a patent from the Imperial Patent Office of the Third Reich concerning a turbine driven compressor and a piston engine. This was the birth of the turbo charger, and on that day the motoring world changed forever, although it did take another 20 years before the idea was actually built!

What is a Turbo?

Dr Buchi was actually a diesel specialist and although he invented the turbocharger itself he did not invent the idea of forcing air into the combustion chamber. The idea for what is know as forced induction actually came in the late 19th century from a man called Gottlieb Daimler.

A lot of people know the term “turbo” but have little or no idea what it actually does, the idea these 2 men pulled together is actually a very simple one. Everyone knows an engine works by putting fuel into a piston and making it explode, diesel and petrol engines use different methods to cause the bang but the result is the same. Everyone also knows that if you blow on a camp fire it glows and burns more brightly, there are certainly a good number of British dads that will have spend hours blowing on a feeble summer barbecue to get it to burn better. This is because adding air to any fire will increase the amount it burns and the same goes for fuel burning in a car engine. So the idea behind a turbo is just like blowing on a fire, it forces extra air into the cylinder to make the bang bigger; bigger bang means more power. The idea of adding extra air into the cylinder is called forced induction, a turbo charger is essentially a fan driven, on one side, by exhaust gases flowing out of the engine that drags fresh air into the engine from the other side.

Where are Turbo Chargers used

Turbos have been used in pretty much every kind of vehicle you can think of, from planes, to boats, motorbikes to trucks and of course…the car. Once the technology took hold people starting putting them in all sorts of things to squeeze out a little bit of extra power. The really big every day use of these brilliant little turbines has always been in diesel engines however. Naturally a diesel engine does not have a great deal of power, a 2.0 litre petrol engine will outgun a 2.0 litre diesel engine all day long. So manufacturers had to increase the power to make them more useable and generally used the turbocharger, you will simple never find a modern diesel without one, engines names like TDi and CDTi are common place and the T always refers to the presence of a turbo. The popularity in diesels certainly took the turbo into the mainstream but they are also used on performance cars across the board, from Ferrari to Subaru, rally cars to F1, eking that bit of extra power from an engine is certainly useful when you want to go faster.

The Future of Turbo Chargers

Use in diesel engines and performance cars has been common place for a long time now, and this looked likely to be the case for many years to come, however Ford had another idea. Ford’s Eco-Boost engine is largely hailed as a break through use of the turbo. Rather than trying to increase power of an existing larger engine, Ford used a turbo to boost the power of a smaller engine. By doing this they have managed to make smaller than normal engines perform like more standard sized ones. So a 1.0 litre Eco-Boost engine drives and performs like a normal 1.6 litre car. This has meant the economy figures and emissions are vastly improved and performance is maintained,  the Turbo went green!

It is now not just Ford doing this but the idea has revolutionised the industry, for people considering fuel costs there is now a alternative to diesel, and it is one that is considerably cleaner too.