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DieselNet Technology Guide » Engine Intake Charge Management Copyright © Ecopoint Inc. Revision 2017.11

Turbocharger Fundamentals
Hannu Jääskeläinen, Magdi K. Khair

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Abstract: Turbochargers are centrifugal

In-depth papers
compressors driven by an exhaust gas
turbine and employed in engines to
boost the charge air pressure. Turbocharging Challenges
Turbocharger performance influences all
important engine parameters, such as Fixed Geometry Turbochargers
fuel economy, power, and emissions. It is
Variable Geometry Turbochargers
important to understand a number of
fundamental concepts before moving on Compressor Map Width
to a more detailed discussion of Enhancement
turbocharger specifics.
Multiple Compressors

Turbocharger Construction Assisted Turbocharging

Turbocharger Compressor
Boosting Systems
Basic Principles of Compression
Turbocharger Durability and
Process Materials
Compressor Maps
Turbocharger Bearings
Turbocharger Turbine
Turbine Energy Extraction

Turbine Performance

1. Turbocharger Construction
A turbocharger consists of a compressor wheel and exhaust gas turbine
wheel coupled together by a solid shaft and that is used to boost the intake
air pressure of an internal combustion engine. The exhaust gas turbine
extracts energy from the exhaust gas and uses it to drive the compressor
and overcome friction. In most automotive-type applications, both the
compressor and turbine wheel are of the radial flow type. Some
applications, such as medium- and low- speed diesel engines, can use an
axial flow turbine wheel instead of a radial flow turbine. The flow of gases
through a typical turbocharger with radial flow compressor and turbine
wheels is shown in Figure 1 [Schwitzer 1991].

Figure 1. Turbocharger construction and flow of gases

(Source: Schwitzer)

Center-Housing. The turbine-compressor common shaft is supported by a

bearing system in the center housing (bearing housing) located between the
compressor and turbine (Figure 2). The shaft wheel assembly (SWA) refers
to the shaft with the compressor and turbine wheels attached, i.e., the
rotating assembly. The center housing rotating assembly (CHRA) refers to
SWA installed in the center-housing but without the compressor and
turbine housings. The center housing is commonly cast from gray cast iron
but aluminum can also be used in some applications. Seals help keep oil
from passing through to the compressor and turbine. Turbochargers for
high exhaust gas temperature applications, such a spark ignition engines,
can also incorporate cooling passages in the center housing.
Figure 2. Sectional view of turbocharger
Sectional view of an exhaust gas turbocharger for a gasoline
engine showing compressor wheel (left) and turbine wheel
(right). The bearing system consists of a thrust bearing and two
fully floating journal bearings. Note the cooling passages.
(Source: BorgWarner)

Bearings. The turbocharger bearing In-depth papers

system appears simple in design but it
Turbocharger Bearings
plays a key role in a number of critical
functions. Some of the more
important ones include: the control of radial and axial motion of the shaft
and wheels and the minimization of friction losses in the bearing system.
Bearing systems have received considerable attention because of their
influence on turbocharger friction and its impact on engine fuel efficiency.

With the exception of some large turbochargers for low-speed engines, the
bearings that support the shaft are usually located between the wheels in
an overhung position. This flexible rotor design ensures that the
turbocharger will operate above its first, and possibly second, critical
speeds and can therefore be subject to rotor dynamic conditions such as
whirl and synchronous vibration.

Seals. Seals are located at both ends of the bearing housing. These seals
represent a difficult design problem due to the need to keep frictional
losses low, the relatively large movements of the shaft due to bearing
clearance and adverse pressure gradients under some conditions.
These seals primarily serve to keep intake air and exhaust gas out of the
center housing. The pressures in the intake and exhaust systems are
normally higher than in the turbocharger’s center housing which is typically
at the pressure of the engine crankcase. As such, they would primarily be
designed to seal the center housing when the pressure in the center
housing is lower than in the intake and exhaust systems. These seals are
not intended to be the primary means of preventing oil from escaping from
the center housing into the exhaust and air systems. Oil is usually
prevented from contacting these seals by other means such as oil deflectors
and rotating flingers.

Turbocharger seals are different from the soft lip seals normally found in
rotating equipment operating at much lower speeds and temperatures. The
piston ring type seal is one type that is often used. It consists of a metal
ring, similar in appearance to a piston ring. The seal remains stationary
when the shaft rotates. Labyrinth-type seals are another type sometimes
used. Generally turbocharger shaft seals will not prevent oil leakage if the
pressure differential reverses such that the pressure in the center housing
is higher than in the intake or exhaust systems.

Schwitzer, 1991. “Introduction To Turbochargers”, Schwitzer Turbochargers,
Indianapolis, Indiana