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Humankind has always tinkered with ways to get more power out of its machines. The one invention that was perfect for this was the Internal Combustion Engine. Since the 20th century, inventors have looked for ways to boost performance of engines.
Piston engines convert only about a third of its energy from fuel into force of motion. The remainder of the energy is lost through heat and friction. A major percentage of energy is wasted through the exhaust. Fortunately, this is where turbochargers come in to play.
From a historical perspective, you could go back as far as the late 1800s, to German inventor Gottlieb Daimler, or Rudolf Diesel, who designed the mechanical supercharger in 1896. But we're going to start with Swiss engineer Dr. Alfred Buchi. In 1905 Buchi was granted the first patent for a practical turbocharger--a supercharger driven by exhaust gas pulses.
In 1910, General Electric started to produce turbochargers. In 1915 Buchi proposed and developed the first prototype of a turbocharged diesel engine. Unfortunately, it wasn't very efficient.
We can create more power by creating a larger engine, which consumes a lot more fuel, or have a small engine artificially breathe as if it were larger than it really is. That is exactly what turbocharging does. It’s not only the cubic inch displacement of the engine that it is rated at; power is also affected by the temperature of the air that is pushed into the cylinders. Air temperature affects density of air--it's the air, not the volume, which produces power.
Turbochargers in the past were generally used for high performance engines and cars. Over the last few years, with strict fuel economy regulations in place starting in 2016, many automakers are adopting turbochargers to smaller displacement engines, as well as engines with fewer cylinders. This allows for a higher mileage rating that we have grown to expect out of a smaller motor, but enabling power output to remain higher. Ultimately, this keeps the "fun to drive" factor alive in smaller cars.
Will we continue to see turbocharging being used in many engines in the future? I sure believe so. It is one of the fastest and most cost effective ways to increase any automaker’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) ratings, but allow buyers to enjoy a peppy and fun ride to boot.