Design and Function of a Turbocharger: Turbine

The turbocharger's basic functions have not fundamentally changed since the times of Alfred Büchi. A turbocharger consists of a compressor and a turbine connected by a common shaft. The exhaust-gas-driven turbine supplies the drive energy for the compressor.

Design and Function of a Turbocharger

Design and function

The turbocharger turbine, which consists of a turbine wheel and a turbine housing, converts the engine exhaust gas into mechanical energy to drive the compressor. The gas, which is restricted by the turbine's flow cross-sectional area, results in a pressure and temperature drop between the inlet and outlet. This pressure drop is converted by the turbine into kinetic energy to drive the turbine wheel.

There are two main turbine types: axial and radial flow. In the axial-flow type, flow through the wheel is only in the axial direction. In radial-flow turbines, gas inflow is centripetal, i.e. in a radial direction from the outside in, and gas outflow in an axial direction.

Up to a wheel diameter of about 160 mm, only radial-flow turbines are used. This corresponds to an engine power of approximately 1000 kW per turbocharger. From 300 mm onwards, only axial-flow turbines are used. Between these two values, both variants are possible.

As the radial-flow turbine is the most popular type for automotive applications, the following description is limited to the design and function of this turbine type. In the volute of such radial or centripetal turbines, exhaust gas pressure is converted into kinetic energy and the exhaust gas at the wheel circumference is directed at constant velocity to the turbine wheel. Energy transfer from kinetic energy into shaft power takes place in the turbine wheel, which is designed so that nearly all the kinetic energy is converted by the time the gas reaches the wheel outlet.

Operating characteristics

The turbine performance increases as the pressure drop between the inlet and outlet increases, i.e. when more exhaust gas is dammed upstream of the turbine as a result of a higher engine speed, or in the case of an exhaust gas temperature rise due to higher exhaust gas energy.

The turbine's characteristic behaviour is determined by the specific flow cross-section, the throat cross-section, in the transition area of the inlet channel to the volute. By reducing this throat cross-section, more exhaust gas is dammed upstream of the turbine and the turbine performance increases as a result of the higher pressure ratio. A smaller flow cross-section therefore results in higher boost pressures.
The turbine's flow cross-sectional area can be easily varied by changing the turbine housing.

Besides the turbine housing flow cross-sectional area, the exit area at the wheel inlet also influences the turbine's mass flow capacity. The machining of a turbine wheel cast contour allows the cross-sectional area and, therefore, the boost pressure, to be adjusted. A contour enlargement results in a larger flow cross-sectional area of the turbine.

Turbines with variable turbine geometry change the flow cross-section between volute channel and wheel inlet. The exit area to the turbine wheel is changed by variable guide vanes or a variable sliding ring covering a part of the cross-section.

In practice, the operating characteristics of exhaust gas turbocharger turbines are described by maps showing the flow parameters plotted against the turbine pressure ratio. The turbine map shows the mass flow curves and the turbine efficiency for various speeds. To simplify the map, the mass flow curves, as well as the efficiency, can be shown by a mean curve

For a high overall turbocharger efficiency, the co-ordination of compressor and turbine wheel diameters is of vital importance. The position of the operating point on the compressor map determines the turbocharger speed. The turbine wheel diameter has to be such that the turbine efficiency is maximised in this operating range.

Twin-entry turbines

The turbine is rarely subjected to constant exhaust pressure. In pulse turbocharged commercial diesel engines, twin-entry turbines allow exhaust gas pulsations to be optimised, because a higher turbine pressure ratio is reached in a shorter time. Thus, through the increasing pressure ratio, the efficiency rises, improving the all-important time interval when a high, more efficient mass flow is passing through the turbine. As a result of this improved exhaust gas energy utilisation, the engine's boost pressure characteristics and, hence, torque behaviour is improved, particularly at low engine speeds.

Turbocharger with twin-entry turbine

Turbocharger with twin-entry turbine

To prevent the various cylinders from interfering with each other during the charge exchange cycles, three cylinders are connected into one exhaust gas manifold. Twin-entry turbines then allow the exhaust gas flow to be fed separately through the turbine.

Water-cooled turbine housings

Turbocharger with water-cooled turbine housing for marine applications

Turbocharger with water-cooled turbine housing for marine applications

Safety aspects also have to be taken into account in turbocharger design. In ship engine rooms, for instance, hot surfaces have to be avoided because of fire risks. Therefore, water-cooled turbocharger turbine housings or housings coated with insulating material are used for marine applications.