Earlier, we discussed how to increase the power of an engine using the turbocharger here. Today, we shall look into another technology developed by manufacturers to perform the same job the turbochargers does.
A supercharger is any device that pressurizes the air intake to above atmospheric pressure. Both superchargers and turbochargers do this. In fact, the term “turbocharger” is a shortened version of “turbo-supercharger,” its official name.
The difference between the two devices is their source of energy. Turbochargers are powered by the mass-flow of exhaust gases driving a turbine. Superchargers are powered mechanically by belt- or chain-drive from the engine’s crankshaft.
Getting more fuel into the charge would make for a more powerful explosion. But you can’t simply pump more fuel into the engine because an exact amount of oxygen is required to burn a given amount of fuel. This chemically correct mixture — 14 parts air to one part fuel — is essential for an engine to operate efficiently. The bottom line: To put in more fuel, you have to put in more air.
That’s the job of the supercharger. Superchargers increase intake by compressing air above atmospheric pressure, without creating a vacuum. This forces more air into the engine, providing a “boost.” With the additional air in the boost, more fuel can be added to the charge, and the power of the engine is increased. Supercharging adds an average of 46 percent more horsepower and 31 percent more torque.
The biggest disadvantage of superchargers is also their defining characteristic: Because the crankshaft drives them, they must steal some of the engine’s horsepower. A supercharger can consume as much as 20 percent of an engine’s total power output. But because a supercharger can generate as much as 46 percent additional horsepower, most think the trade-off is worth it.
Unlike turbochargers, which use the exhaust gases created by combustion to power the compressor, superchargers draw their power directly from the crankshaft. Most are driven by an accessory belt, which wraps around a pulley that is connected to a drive gear. The drive gear, in turn, rotates the compressor gear. The rotor of the compressor can come in various designs, but its job is to draw air in, squeeze the air into a smaller space and discharge it into the intake manifold.
There are three types of superchargers: Roots, twin-screw and centrifugal. The main difference is how they move air to the intake manifold of the engine. Roots and twin-screw superchargers use different types of meshing lobes, and a centrifugal supercharger uses an impeller, which draws air in. Although all of these designs provide a boost, they differ considerably in their efficiency. Each type of supercharger is available in different sizes, depending on whether you just want to give your car a boost or compete in a race.