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About this Article
Written by: Susan Miles
Written on: October 3rd, 2005
Tags: mechanical engineering, energy & sustainability, transportation
Thumbnail by: NASA
About the Author
Susan Miles graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering from USC in 2007. She is currently working at Lockheed Martin on the F-22 Raptor.
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Volume IX Issue III > Turbochargers
Turbocharging, a technology originally developed for use in aircraft, is a current trend among automobile enthusiasts. Applying a turbocharger to an internal combustion engine increases the power output of that engine, allowing for greater acceleration and higher maximum speeds. Turbochargers increase an automobile's power-to-weight ratio by harnessing the exhaust from the engine. They can also make a car more environmentally friendly, since they output more power while consuming the same amount of fuel. Automobile manufacturers are researching the fuel saving capacity of turbochargers in light of modern oil shortages.
In the climax of the movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, the main character, Sean Boswell, is racing down the side of a Japanese mountain in a '67 Ford Mustang. This, however, is not an ordinary Mustang. With the help of his father and friends, Sean has installed a salvaged Nissan VQ35DE V6 Twin Turbo engine into his car. Turbo is short for turbocharger, and this engine's two turbochargers boost the power output to a full 460 horsepower, giving Sean the speed and fast acceleration to defeat the competition [1]. Turbochargers are no longer just for cars in the movies. Several commercially available vehicles come with turbocharged engines direct from the factory, such as the Audi A6 2.7T, and most other cars can have aftermarket turbochargers or other boosting devices installed. Aside from improving the car's raw power, turbochargers can also improve gas mileage and possibly provide some relief to modern oil shortages.

A Brief History of the Turbocharger

The first turbocharger was patented in 1905 by Alfred Bucchi of Switzerland, who then built the first prototype in 1915. In the United States, the General Electric Company built a turbocharger and tested it on a diesel-powered biplane in 1920. This turbocharged plane broke records and soared to heights of 36,000 ft, the altitude at which modern commercial aircraft fly [2]. During World War II, General Electric became involved with the Garret Corporation in turbocharger production and, in 1954, Garret formed a group to focus specifically on turbocharger design and production. They founded the AiResearch Industrial Division, which later became Garret Automotive [3]. In 1961, Garret produced the first turbocharger for use in passenger vehicles. The device was coupled with the Oldsmobile Aluminum 215 "Rockette" engine and deployed on Jetfire sports cars from 1962-1963 [4]. Despite this early introduction, turbocharging did not become popular in general consumer automobiles until the late 1980s.

Internal Combustion Engines

Modern vehicles are run by internal combustion engines (ICE). These ICEs are powered by a number of pistons and cylinders: a car can be a "four cylinder" (like a Honda Civic), "six cylinder" (like a Lexus IS 250), or an "eight cylinder" (like a Ford Mustang GT). These cylinders work in combination with pistons to create power in a four-step process: intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust. Intake occurs when the piston moves down in the cylinder, creating empty space, or a vacuum, into which a fuel and air mixture will flow from the carburetor. Once the cylinder is full of the mixture, the rotating shaft pushes the piston up, compressing the fuel and air so they become extremely dense. At the top of its rotation, the piston hits a spark plug, creating a spark and igniting, or combusting, the fuel. The explosion caused by ignition forces the piston down again, powering the shaft rotation and allowing the exhaust to exit the cylinder. The shaft rotation turns the wheels of the automobile [5].