There are a number of different types of turbocharger used within the automotive industry:
- Twin-Scroll Turbo
- Variable Geometry Turbo
- Variable Twin Scroll Turbo
- Electric Turbo
Single turbochargers are what most people think of as turbos. By differing the size of the elements within the turbo, completely different torque characteristics can be achieved. Large turbos provide higher levels of top end power, whilst smaller turbos can spool faster and provide better low-end power. They are a cost-effective way of increasing engine power and efficiency, and as such have become increasingly popular, allowing smaller engines to increase efficiency by producing the same power as larger naturally-aspirated engines, but with a lower weight. They do however tend to work best within a narrow RPM range, and drivers will often experience ‘turbo-lag’ until the turbo starts to operate within its peak rev band.
As the name implies twin-turbos mean adding a second turbocharger to an engine. In the case of V6 or V8 engines, this can be done by assigning a single turbo to work with each cylinder bank. Alternatively, one smaller turbo could be used at low RPMs with a larger turbo for higher RPMs. This second configuration (known as twin sequential turbocharging) allows for a wider operating RPM range, and provides better torque at low revs (reducing turbo lag), but also gives power at high RPMs. Unsurprisingly, having two turbos, significantly increases the complexity and associated costs.
Twin-scroll turbochargers require a divided-inlet turbine housing and exhaust manifold that pairs the correct engine cylinders with each scroll. independently. For example, in a four-cylinder engine (with a firing order 1-3-4-2), cylinders 1 and 4 might feed to one scroll of the turbo, while cylinders 2 and 3 feed to a separate scroll. This layout provides more efficient delivery of exhaust gas energy to the turbo, and results and helps provide denser, purer air into each cylinder. More energy is sent to the exhaust turbine, meaning more power. Again, there is a cost penalty for addressing the complexity of a system requiring complicated turbine housings, exhaust manifolds and turbos.
Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT)
Typically, VGTs include a ring of aerodynamically-shaped vanes in the turbine housing at the turbine inlet. In turbos for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, these vanes rotate to vary the gas swirl angle and the cross-sectional area. These internal vanes alter the turbos area-to-radius (A/R) ratio to match the engines RPM, and so give peak performance. At low RPM, a low A/R ratio allows the turbo to quickly spool up by increasing exhaust gas velocity and. At higher revs the A/R ratio increases, ther4eby allowing increased airflow. This results in a low boost threshold reducing turbo lag, and provides a wide and smooth torque band.
Whilst VGTs are more typically used in diesel engines where exhaust gases are lower temperature, until now VGTs have been limited in petrol engine applications due to their cost and the requirement for components to be made from exotic materials. The high temperature of the exhaust gases means that the vanes must be made from exotic heat-resistant materials to prevent damage. This has restricted their use to applications within luxury, high performance engines.
Variable Twin-Scroll Turbocharger (VTS)
As the name suggests a VTS turbocharger combines the advantages of a twin-scroll turbo and a variable geometry turbo. It does this by the use of a valve which can redirect the exhaust airflow to just a single scroll, or by varying the amount the valve opens can allow for the exhaust gases to split to both scrolls. The VTS turbocharger design provides a cheaper and more robust alternative to VGT turbos, meaning it is a viable option for petrol engine applications
An electric turbocharger is used to eliminate turbo lag and assist a normal turbocharger at lower engine speeds where a conventional turbo is not most efficient. This is achieved by adding an electric motor that spins up the turbo’s compressor from start and through the lower revs, until the power from the exhaust volume is high enough to work the turbocharger. This approach makes turbo lag a thing of the past, and significantly increases the RPM band within which the turbo will efficiently operate. So far, so good. It appears that electronic turbos are the answer to all the negative characteristics of conventional turbochargers, however there are some disadvantages. Most are around cost and complexity, as the electric motor must be accommodated and powered, plus also cooled to prevent reliability issues.