Supercharger Types and history
A supercharger is an air compressor used to increase the pressure, temperature, and density of air supplied to an internal combustion engine. This compressed air supplies a greater mass of oxygen per cycle of the engine to support combustion than available to a naturally aspirated engine, which makes it possible for more fuel to be burned and more work to be done per cycle, which increases the power the engine produces.
Power for the supercharger can be provided mechanically by a belt, gear, shaft, or chain connected to the engine's crankshaft. When power is provided by a turbine powered by exhaust gas, a supercharger is known as a turbosupercharger – typically referred to simply as a turbocharger or just turbo. Common usage restricts the term supercharger to mechanically driven units.
In 1860, brothers Philander and Francis Marion Roots, founders of Roots Blower Company of Connersville, Indiana, patented the design for an air mover, for use in blast furnaces and other industrial applications.
The world's first functional, actually tested engine supercharger was made by Dugald Clerk, who used it for the first two-stroke engine in 1878. Gottlieb Daimler received a German patent for supercharging an internal combustion engine in 1885. Louis Renault patented a centrifugal supercharger in France in 1902. An early supercharged race car was built by Lee Chadwick of Pottstown, Pennsylvania in 1908 which reportedly reached a speed of 100 mph (160 km/h).
The world's first series-produced cars with superchargers were Mercedes 6/25/40 hp and Mercedes 10/40/65 hp. Both models were introduced in 1921 and had Roots superchargers. They were distinguished as "Kompressor" models, the origin of the Mercedes-Benz badging which continues today.
On March 24, 1878 Heinrich Krigar of Germany obtained patent #4121, patenting the first ever screw-type compressor. Later that same year on August 16 he obtained patent #7116 after modifying and improving his original designs. His designs show a two-lobe rotor assembly with each rotor having the same shape as the other. Although the design resembled the roots style compressor, the "screws" were clearly shown with 180 degrees of twist along their length. Unfortunately, the technology of the time was not sufficient to produce such a unit, and Heinrich made no further progress with the screw compressor. Nearly half a century later, in 1935, Alf Lysholm, who was working for Ljungstroms Angturbin AB (later known as Svenska Rotor Maskiner AB or SRM in 1951), patented a design with five female and four male rotors. He also patented the method for machining the compressor rotors.
Types of supercharger
There are two main types of superchargers defined according to the method of compression: positive displacement and dynamic compressors. The former deliver a fairly constant level of pressure increase at all engine speeds (RPM), whereas the latter deliver increasing pressure with increasing engine speed.
Positive-displacement pumps deliver a nearly fixed volume of air per revolution at all speeds (minus leakage, which is almost constant at all speeds for a given pressure, thus its importance decreases at higher speeds). The device divides the air mechanically into parcels for delivery to the engine, mechanically moving the air into the engine bit by bit.
Major types of positive-displacement pumps include:
- Lysholm twin-screw
- Sliding vane
- Scroll-type supercharger, also known as the G-Lader
Positive-displacement pumps are further divided into internal compression and external compression types.
Roots superchargers are typically external compression only (although high-helix roots blowers attempt to emulate the internal compression of the Lysholm screw).
- External compression refers to pumps that transfer air at ambient pressure into the engine. If the engine is running under boost conditions, the pressure in the intake manifold is higher than that coming from the supercharger. That causes a backflow from the engine into the supercharger until the two reach equilibrium. It is the backflow that actually compresses the incoming gas. This is a highly inefficient process, and the main factor in the lack of efficiency of Roots superchargers when used at high boost levels. The lower the boost level the smaller is this loss, and Roots blowers are very efficient at moving air at low pressure differentials, which is what they were first invented for (hence the original term "blower").
All the other types have some degree of internal compression.
- Internal compression refers to the compression of air within the supercharger itself, which, already at or close to boost level, can be delivered smoothly to the engine with little or no back flow. This is more effective than back flow compression and allows higher efficiency to be achieved. Internal compression devices usually use a fixed internal compression ratio. When the boost pressure is equal to the compression pressure of the supercharger, the back flow is zero. If the boost pressure exceeds that compression pressure, back flow can still occur as in a roots blower. Internal compression blowers must be matched to the expected boost pressure in order to achieve the higher efficiency they are capable of, otherwise they will suffer the same problems and low efficiency of the roots blowers.
Positive-displacement superchargers are usually rated by their capacity per revolution. In the case of the Roots blower, the GMC rating pattern is typical. The GMC types are rated according to how many two-stroke cylinders, and the size of those cylinders, it is designed to scavenge. GMC has made 2–71, 3–71, 4–71, and the famed 6–71 blowers. For example, a 6–71 blower is designed to scavenge six cylinders of 71 cubic inches (1,163 cc) each and would be used on a two-stroke diesel of 426 cubic inches (6,981 cc), which is designated a 6–71; the blower takes this same designation. However, because 6–71 is actually the engine's designation, the actual displacement is less than the simple multiplication would suggest. A 6–71 actually pumps 339 cubic inches (5,555 cc) per revolution.
Aftermarket derivatives continue the trend with 8–71 to current 16–71 blowers used in different motor sports. From this, one can see that a 6–71 is roughly twice the size of a 3–71. GMC also made 53 cubic inches (869 cc) series in 2-, 3-, 4-, 6-, and 8–53 sizes, as well as a “V71” series for use on engines using a V configuration.
Dynamic compressors rely on accelerating the air to high speed and then exchanging that velocity for pressure by diffusing or slowing it down.
Major types of dynamic compressor are:
- Multi-stage axial-flow
- Pressure wave supercharger
Supercharger drive types
Superchargers are further defined according to their method of drive (mechanical—or turbine).
- Belt (V-belt, Synchronous belt, Flat belt)
- Direct drive
- Gear drive
- Chain drive
Exhaust gas turbines
- Axial turbine
- Radial turbine
- Electric motor
- Auxiliary Power Unit in some large industrial applications.
All types of compressor may be mated to and driven by either gas turbine or mechanical linkage. Dynamic compressors are most often matched with gas turbine drives due to their similar high-speed characteristics, whereas positive displacement pumps usually use one of the mechanical drives. However, all of the possible combinations have been tried with various levels of success. In principle, a positive displacement engine could be used in place of an exhaust turbine to improve low speed performance. Electric superchargers are all essentially fans (axial pumps). A form of regenerative braking has been tried where the car is slowed by compressing air for future acceleration.
Temperature effects and intercoolers
One disadvantage of supercharging is that compressing the air increases its temperature. When a supercharger is used on an internal combustion engine, the temperature of the fuel/air charge becomes a major limiting factor in engine performance. Extreme temperatures will cause detonation of the fuel-air mixture (spark ignition engines) and damage to the engine. In cars, this can cause a problem when it is a hot day outside, or when an excessive level of boost is reached.
In 1900, Gottlieb Daimler, of Daimler-Benz (Daimler AG), was the first to patent a forced-induction system for internal combustion engines, superchargers based on the twin-rotor air-pump design, first patented by the American Francis Roots in 1860, the basic design for the modern Roots type supercharger.
The first supercharged cars were introduced at the 1921 Berlin Motor Show: the 6/20 hp and 10/35 hp Mercedes. These cars went into production in 1923 as the 6/25/40 hp (regarded as the first supercharged road car) and 10/40/65 hp.These were normal road cars as other supercharged cars at same time were almost all racing cars, including the 1923 Fiat 805-405, 1923 Miller 122 1924 Alfa Romeo P2, 1924 Sunbeam, 1925 Delage, and the 1926 Bugatti Type 35C. At the end of the 1920s, Bentley made a supercharged version of the Bentley 4½ Litre road car. Since then, superchargers (and turbochargers) have been widely applied to racing and production cars, although the supercharger's technological complexity and cost have largely limited it to expensive, high-performance cars.
Supercharging versus turbocharging
Keeping the air that enters the engine cool is an important part of the design of both superchargers and turbochargers. Compressing air increases its temperature, so it is common to use a small radiator called an intercooler between the pump and the engine to reduce the temperature of the air.
There are three main categories of superchargers for automotive use:
- Centrifugal turbochargers – driven from exhaust gases.
- Centrifugal superchargers – driven directly by the engine via a belt-drive.
- Positive displacement pumps – such as the Roots, Twin Screw (Lysholm), and TVS (Eaton) blowers.
Roots blowers tend to be 40–50% efficient at high boost levels. Centrifugal superchargers are 70–85% efficient. Lysholm-style blowers can be nearly as efficient as their centrifugal counterparts over a narrow range of load/speed/boost, for which the system must be specifically designed.
Positive-displacement superchargers may absorb as much as a third of the total crankshaft power of the engine, and, in many applications, are less efficient than turbochargers. In applications for which engine response and power are more important than any other consideration, such as top-fuel dragsters and vehicles used in tractor pulling competitions, positive-displacement superchargers are very common.
The thermal efficiency, or fraction of the fuel/air energy that is converted to output power, is less with a mechanically driven supercharger than with a turbocharger, because turbochargers are using energy from the exhaust gases that would normally be wasted. For this reason, both the economy and the power of a turbocharged engine are usually better than with superchargers.
Turbochargers suffer (to a greater or lesser extent) from so-called turbo-spool (turbo lag; more correctly, boost lag), in which initial acceleration from low RPM is limited by the lack of sufficient exhaust gas mass flow (pressure). Once engine RPM is sufficient to start the turbine spinning, there is a rapid increase in power, as higher turbo boost causes more exhaust gas production, which spins the turbo yet faster, leading to a belated "surge" of acceleration. This makes the maintenance of smoothly increasing RPM far harder with turbochargers than with engine-driven superchargers, which apply boost in direct proportion to the engine RPM. The main advantage of an engine with a mechanically driven supercharger is better throttle response, as well as the ability to reach full-boost pressure instantaneously. With the latest turbocharging technology and direct gasoline injection, throttle response on turbocharged cars is nearly as good as with mechanically powered superchargers, but the existing lag time is still considered a major drawback, especially considering that the vast majority of mechanically driven superchargers are now driven off clutched pulleys, much like an air compressor.
Turbocharging has been more popular than superchargers among auto manufacturers owing to better power and efficiency. For instance Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG previously had supercharged "Kompressor" offerings in the early 2000s such as the C230K, C32 AMG, and S55 AMG, but they have abandoned that technology in favor of turbocharged engines released around 2010 such as the C250 and S65 AMG biturbo. However, Audi did introduce its 3.0 TFSI supercharged V6 in 2009 for its A6, S4, and Q7, while Jaguar has its supercharged V8 engine available as a performance option in the XJ, XF and XKR.
In the 1985 and 1986 World Rally Championships, Lancia ran the Delta S4, which incorporated both a belt-driven supercharger and exhaust-driven turbocharger. The design used a complex series of bypass valves in the induction and exhaust systems as well as an electromagnetic clutch so that, at low engine speeds, boost was derived from the supercharger. In the middle of the rev range, boost was derived from both systems, while at the highest revs the system disconnected drive from the supercharger and isolated the associated ducting.This was done in an attempt to exploit the advantages of each of the charging systems while removing the disadvantages. In turn, this approach brought greater complexity and impacted on the cars reliability in WRC events, as well as increasing the weight of engine ancillaries in the finished design.
The Volkswagen TSI engine (or Twincharger) is a 1.4-litre direct-injection motor that also uses both a supercharger and turbocharger.
Two-stage and two-speed superchargers
In the 1930s, two-speed-drives were developed for superchargers. These provided more flexibility for the operation of the aircraft, although they also entailed more complexity of manufacturing and maintenance. The gears connected the supercharger to the engine using a system of hydraulic clutches, which were manually engaged or disengaged by the pilot with a control in the cockpit. At low altitudes, the low-speed gear would be used in order to keep the manifold temperatures low. At around 12,000 feet (3,700 m), when the throttle was full forward and the manifold pressure started to drop off, the pilot would retard the throttle and switch to the higher gear, then readjust the throttle to the desired manifold pressure.
Another way to accomplish the same level of control was the use of two compressors (also known as stages) in series. After the air was compressed in the low-pressure stage, the air flowed through an intercooler radiator where it was cooled before being compressed again by the high-pressure stage and then aftercooled in another heat exchanger. In these systems, damper doors could be opened or closed by the pilot in order to bypass one stage as needed. Some systems had a cockpit control for opening or closing a damper to the intercooler/aftercooler, providing another way to control temperature. The most complex systems used a two-speed, two-stage system with both an intercooler and an aftercooler, but these were found to be prohibitive in cost and complicated. In the end, it was found that, for most engines, a single-stage two-speed setup was most suitable.
Effects of fuel octane rating
Until World War II all automobile and aviation fuel was generally rated at 87 octane or less. This is the rating that was achieved by the simple distillation of "light crude" oil. Engines from around the world were designed to work with this grade of fuel, which set a limit to the amount of boosting that could be provided by the supercharger, while maintaining a reasonable compression ratio.
Octane rating boosting through additives was a line of research being explored at the time. Using these techniques, less valuable crude could still supply large amounts of useful gasoline, which made it a valuable economic process. However, the additives were not limited to making poor-quality oil into 87-octane gasoline; the same additives could also be used to boost the gasoline to much higher octane ratings.
Higher-octane fuel resists auto ignition and detonation better than does low-octane fuel. As a result, the amount of boost supplied by the superchargers could be increased, resulting in an increase in engine output. The development of 100-octane aviation fuel, pioneered in the USA before the war, enabled the use of higher boost pressures to be used on high-performance aviation engines, and was used to develop extremely high-power outputs – for short periods – in several of the pre-war speed record airplanes. Operational use of the new fuel during World War II began in early 1940 when 100-octane fuel was delivered to the British Royal Air Force from refineries in America and the East Indies. The German Luftwaffe also had supplies of a similar fuel.
Increasing the knocking limits of existing aviation fuels became a major focus of aero engine development during World War II. By the end of the war, fuel was being delivered at a nominal 150-octane rating, on which late-war aero engines like the Rolls-Royce Merlin 66 or the Daimler-Benz DB 605DC developed as much as 2,000 hp (1,500 kW).