basics of turbocharger

Turbocharger – Function, Construction And Working

Last Updated on May 25, 2020 by Amit Abhishek

How can we increase the power of an engine? To generate more power we require more Fuel and Air. Conventionally this was achieved by increasing length of piston stroke or the number of cylinders.

But what if there’s a way to achieve all without making any change in the engine. Yes! Using Turbocharger we can generate more power from the same engine at much lesser fuel as it would be required by a new engine.

You might be known to the fact that exhaust from the engines leads to air pollution; But do you know they also take away the much-needed energy in the form of waste?

Exhaust gas is a perfect example of waste energy in the form of heat and kinetic energy lost in the environment. A turbocharger uses this waste energy to pump in more fresh air into the cylinder to burn faster and efficiently.

Q. Why do we need a Turbocharger in the first place?

A non-turbocharged marine diesel engine ( or perhaps any other diesel engine ) will take in the same amount of fresh air for each rotation of the crankshaft ( 360 degrees).

This implies that we can increase the power of an engine by adding more fuel during combustion; but after a point there won’t be enough fresh air to burn it.

A turbocharger is so needed to provide that extra air required for the proper combustion. This leads to an advantage in the efficiency and power of the engine.

The other reason that made it popular is that; you don’t have to dismantle engine parts or change anything to install. Its quite easy to install, maintain, and replace with a better newer design when needed at low cost.

It is a device that really makes it possible to produce relatively more power at less cost by burning more fuel and recovering a major part of waste heat from exhaust gases.

Turbocharger - Function, Construction And Working

Q. How Turbocharger leads to Efficient Fuel Consumption?

You might hear or just learned in the above paragraphs of this article that ” A turbocharger reduces overall fuel consumption”.

Wait a minute! Isn’t it contradictory that, while turbocharger increases power enabling more fuel consumption and waste heat recovery; How does it save fuel anyway?

The answer is; An engine installed with a turbocharger for the same power output is of smaller size with less no of cylinders.

Now even by law if turbocharger increases fuel consumption by 10-15%; it still reduces the overall fuel consumption than a large engine with more cylinders. This leads to much efficient fuel consumption in turbocharged engines.

Construction and Working of Individual Parts

A turbocharger is a device consists of two main parts turbine and compressor mounted on the same shaft. On the basis of its design all turbocharged engines can be classified into two main types; Axial flow and radial/centrifugal turbochargers.

A radial / centrifugal type is used in automobile engines to produce similar torque and power with much smaller ( lighter ) turbocharger compatible with small engines.

The exhaust blows in radially along the turbine blades to leave through the axis of the turbine shaft. On the other hand; an axial flow turbine is used in large land-based plants and marine ships.

In these designs the exhaust moves in and out of the blade along the axis of the shaft. These designs have the following main parts with their function:


1 ) Turbine

High-velocity exhaust gas from the nozzle ring is directed on to the rotor blades. Nozzle rings are used to generate kinetic energy in exhaust gas while rotor blades are held tightly by roots of the fir tree structure. They are secured from vibration by lacing wires passing through each of them.

Heat resistant nickel-chromium steel is used for the construction of turbine blades, wheel nozzle, and shaft. Adequate arrangement for cooling water space is also done on its casing made of cast iron.

2 ) Compressor / Blower

A compressor or blower is fitted with a set of silencer and filter at the inlet side of a turbocharger.

To direct the flow of fresh air towards the center an inducer made of light alloy aluminum steel is fitted just before the impeller. The impeller takes fresh air axially while delivers it radially along with the volute casing.

A volute casing is placed just after the impeller to convert all that kinetic energy of the fresh air into pressure energy. The pressurized air is then sent to the cylinder via inter cooler to cool the compressed air.

3 ) Bearings & Seals

Separate shaft bearings are fitted on both parts of the turbocharger. Generally ball and roller or plain sleeve bearings are used.

The additional labyrinth seal is fitted in between the bearings and turbine ( 1st set) & in between thrust bearing and compressor/blower ( 2nd set ). Labyrinth seals are sealed by air discharge from the blower to avoid the risk of lube oil contamination from the exhaust gas.

How does Turbocharger Works?

The basic idea is to produce compressed air using blower and a turbine mounted on the same shaft.

  1. Fresh air is sucked in by the impeller of the blower via a set of fitter and inducer.
  2. The blades of the impeller ( blower ) take the air axially while releases it radially.
  3. The squeezed hot air is then passed through the volute casing to produce pressure.
  4. This hot pressurized air is then passed through the inter cooler or so-called heat exchanger.
  5. A heat exchanger is used to cool down the air; thus increasing its density.
  6. Compressed cool air helps burn more fuel thus producing more power for the shaft, piston, and (propeller/wheels / Gear ) depending upon engine application.
  7. More combustion leads to more exhaust which is then used to rotate turbine blades.
  8. Nozzle rings are used to add high kinetic energy to the exhaust gas.
  9. The turbine rotates turning the blower impeller along with the shaft.
  10. The exhaust then leaves out of the system with much lesser waste heat then it would otherwise.

Turbocharger bearing

How Turbocharger Bearings are Lubricated?

A turbocharger is one of the most reliable pieces of equipment installed on an engine ( On the ship, vehicle, or any other land-based plant ). They rarely fail and if they do the main reason is oil contamination or starvation.

I know – I know; you would ask what is the need for oil in the first place?

You know what! A turbocharger has two main parts: turbine and blower which rotates at extremely high rpm with their common shaft. Such high-speed demands for protective bearings installed on the shafts.

They not only bear the load but also assist in the unrestricted movement of the shaft. The only problem is; they require lubrication for maintaining proper operation without faults.

This is why the quality of lubricant is of so importance for the proper operation of the turbocharger. A good lubricant thus must have the following characteristics:

  • Resistant to high temperature.
  • Good viscosity index
  • High demulsibility ( The ability to release or get separated with water )
  • It does not react with parts of the turbocharger.
  • Good load caring capacity
  • No foam / foaming
  • Resist corrosion and rust formation
  • High flash point
  • Allow for quick and easy air release
  • Low pour point

A ball and roller bearing use self-contained gear pump for lubrication. Oil is drawn from the sump ( Independent of the engine ) provided on either side of the casing to these bearings. A sight glass is provided to see and check the level of oil in the sump.

On the other hand a sleeve type bearing ( generally white metal ) utilizes the main engine lube oil for this purpose.

Lub oil is provided to these bearings from the gravity tank through a nonreturn valve. An orifice is used for supplying oil from the main engine lube oil line to the gravity tank with a return line back to the sump to maintain oil level.

Q. What is Turbocharger Surging?

If you ever go to the engine room during bad weather; chances are you will notice a sudden loud noise with a bang and vibration.

This is what is called surging. For all those who never witness it or heard from anyone it’s a rapid deceleration due to uneven supply and demand arose due to mass flow rate of air lower than the given pressure ratio.

In simple words it is a phenomenon where pressurized air released backward to the atmosphere through the blower.

When the scavenge pressure is far above the delivered pressure from turbocharger this reversal of air flow takes place with a loud noise. Although it doesn’t occur frequently but can be seen during bad weather ( 4 out of 10 times ).

Some of the main reasons for turbocharger surging are; improper power distribution between units, dirty impeller blades, or chocked inlet filter and bad weather.

Surging is not a good thing and so must be avoided at all conditions. Following key preventive measures are taken on board ship to avoid surging:

  1. Periodic cleaning of blower inlet filters
  2. Proper maintenance
  3. Shoot blowout to be carried for boiler exhaust and economizer.
  4. Blades of blower impeller be washed by water.
  5. Use indicator card to maintain all unit performance.

You can see Live surging example by clicking this link ( This is a third party content and we are not responsible for content quality, link or any other thing ).


Regular inspection and overhaul of turbochargers are done on board ship as per the planned maintenance.

This generally includes checking of oil levels in the sump, cleaning air inlet filters, and inspecting or renewing bearings based on running hours, clearance, damage, and vibration. Other than that water washing of each side is done on each such inspection.

Dust and oil sucked from the engine room may get stick to the impeller blades affecting its performance and efficiency. So regular water washing of blower/compressor side is done. To do so first fill the tank with water and close the vent.

Now open the valve A to supply air into the tank; slowly open the valve B and wait for next 20 to 30 minutes for the process to complete. Now close all the valves, inspect and empty the tank.

Turbocharger - Function, Construction And Working

Although water washing of the turbine side is not generally advised due to the high risk of corrosion and thermal stress.

But to reduce shoot and dirt deposits on turbine blades its quite necessary sometimes to water wash the turbine side. Engine speed is lowered for this operation and then drains ( of turbocharger ) are opened. Slowly water is admitted from the top to come out from the drains.

Appearance of drain water is watched till clean water starts to come from the drain. Then the injection of water is stopped and drains are closed. Engine is run on the same speed for the next 5 to 10 minutes to dry up the system.

#NOTE: I will look forward to your helpful comment and recommendations to improve this Article ( Turbocharger – Function, Construction And Working ).

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8 thoughts on “Turbocharger – Function, Construction And Working”

  1. could you please explain difference between pulsed and constant pressure turbocharger??why we are using pulsed type in auxiliary engine without auxiliary blower?

    1. Both pulse and constant pressure turbocharger are two ways super charging is done in marine diesel engines. Now the aim for supercharging is to improve the power to weight ratio of the engine; thus improving its overall efficiency. Now for a six cylinder inline diesel engine you will have power stroke at different times for all 6 cylinders. IN pulse type supercharging the exhaust of individual units are directly sent to turbine blades via nozzles. This allow the turbine to be rotated at required rpm even from cold start; since the kinetic energy of such exhaust came in form of pulse; it is called pulse turbocharging. While this arrangement is cheap, utilize exhaust energy fully and can be used even at low speed without auxiliary blower; it increase the chances of blow-back, reduce life of turbine blades and require appropriate turbine position and engine synchronization. On another hand in constant pressure turbocharger exhaust gas end up in a common manifold before passing on to the turbocharger. This results in better overall efficiency, allows expansion in number of cylinders, simple design, increase the life of turbine blades. The only drawback is that it needs auxiliary blower as it naturally don’t provide enough exhaust at start to run turbine at required rpm.

  2. It will be good if you could include about the ‘Diffuser’ in the compressor side blade. The part where the actual kinetic energy is converted into pressure energy which is based on the flow theorem in thermodynamics…

    1. Thank You For Your comment, While i draw the diffuser in the diagram it is not marked or indicated. It was a small mistake at the time; a diffuser in turbocharger is located or produced in between the back plate of the compressor and the volute casing. While the majority of kinetic energy converted to pressure energy in the volute casing; small part of it get transformed in the diffuser itself. I hope i answers your query and will try to update the above image as soon as possible.

  3. Thank you very much for this nice article.I have a question.
    I saw an additional air line in turbocharger compressor side may be which comes from the control air line.why this is fitted??can you please clarify??

    1. They are known as the Lemda controller that provides additional force to overcome initial inertia of the turbocharger rotor. Have control airline and a valve which opens at low rpm for assistance. Once the turbocharger reaches a minimum speed the control air cuts off.

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