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How does a turbocharger actually work on ships and boats?

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More power with less consumption. How does it work?

Anyone who has recently bought a new car is likely to have bought a turbocharged car. The same development also applies to ships or boats. The device looks like a snail in the armor of a medieval knight and, in short, provides more vroooom! Of course, enthusiasts not only know how the turbocharger works, they can also assemble and adjust it and fish its individual parts out of the engine compartment if something goes wrong. But the average driver will have little idea how the magic device works in their car. The same principle applies to boats or ships. Since a boat engine does not work any differently than a car, the use of a turbocharger in a boat or ship can also significantly increase the performance without increasing fuel consumption. We flew in a team of top-class scientists to solve the puzzle once and for all.

The exhaust powers the engine

Modern combustion engines can only convert around 20 percent of the energy in fuel into motion. The rest evaporates as heat along with the exhaust gas. The purpose of the turbocharger is to make some of this energy usable. The hot exhaust gases, which normally simply escape into the environment, are passed through a turbine for this purpose. It works in a similar way to a wind turbine as it is used to generate electricity. The turbine drives a shaft which is connected to a fan (compressor) on the other side. This pushes fresh air into the engine. The more air that gets into the engine, the higher the compression rate of the air-fuel mixture and the more efficiently the engine can work.

turbocharger boat

The turbocharger is only for professionals

So far, so simple. However, it’s not enough to simply staple a turbocharger to the engine and think the old Toyota Corolla is a Formula 1 car. Not every engine can withstand the extremely high pressure generated by the compressor. It is not uncommon to read about young drivers who tried to refurbish their first car with a cheap turbo set from the Far East, only to be reminded by a big bang that they are not mechanics. A reinforced cylinder head is just as mandatory as a charge air cooler, which keeps the compressed air cool and therefore denser.

More performance, less consumption

The turbocharger was actually invented to get more power out of large engines. In the meantime, however, car manufacturers are also using the technology to achieve better consumption values. In this way, efficiencies of more than 40% are sometimes achieved. The result is cars like the Ford Fiesta ST, which consumes just under 6 liters with 200 hp. Just like the older brother without a turbocharger, which, however, rolls through the finish line much later with 134 hp.

Is the turbocharger a risk?

Unfortunately, the technology also has some major drawbacks. Every moving part in an engine is a part that can potentially break. Under full load, the turbine rotates in a turbocharger at up to 300,000 revolutions per minute. At these speeds, the part gets so hot that it glows red. A minimal manufacturing defect can cause a turbine blade to break and puncture the casing. On its way through the engine compartment, the fragment can destroy other important parts and, in the worst case, cause a total loss. That is why the turbocharger must always be well oiled and, above all, installed by a specialist. Then the turbo screw can make driving a car much easier.

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