Ferrari splits the turbocharger

Maranello eyes new-age electric supercharger that could combine economy and forcedinduction torque with atmo-like response

BY LOUIS CORDONY

FERRARI IS so determined to stop turbochargers from sucking the drama out of its venerable engines that itís devised plans to basically reinvent the technology. The Italian outfit recently logged a patent in Europe detailing a unique turbo system that, if executed properly Ė on engines such as those in the 488, seen right Ė will blow away convention and the competition.

However, before we dive into the juicy details behind Ferrariís uninspiringly titled ĎMethod To Control An Electrically-Operated Turbocharger In A Supercharged Internal Combustion Engineí document, letís cover the basics.

Turbos whoosh, whirr, and increase an engineís shove when you sink the throttle. This happens because the engineís hot, fast-moving exhaust gases, pushed by fast-moving pistons, dive into a fan, called the turbine. Living in a snail-like housing, this is connected to another fan, in another snail-like housing very nearby, by way of a shaft. This other fan, the compressor, pumps air into the engine. More air, more fuel, bigger bang, more power.

Traditionally, there are costs. Response is one, efficiency another, then thereís making it all fit in the engine bay. Yet perhaps most important to a company like Ferrari, which prides itself on the cry of its atmospheric engines, is sound. This, and throttle response, has kept its engineers up at night.

And so, in what could be one of the happiest petrol-electric marriages thus far, Ferrari has used electricity to split the turbocharger. In this patent, Ferrari ditches the turbinecompressor shaft and divorces the two parts completely. Instead, the compressor is now driven by an electric motor, allowing it to reach a desired rpm (and boost figure) as fast as that motor can deliver it (almost instantly).

Thereís still a turbine but it now spins a generator. This generator charges a battery, which supplies juice back to the compressorís motor. So smart yet so simple, huh? This also allows both components to be designed without any compromises needed to accommodate the otherís goals (boost, flow, efficiency) but the real advantage is the turbineís generator can charge the battery pack even when boost isnít needed. On top of that, if thereís enough electrical charge (which is always the case in higher rpms, according to Ferrari), the generatorís resistance can be eased to quicken exhaust flow and ďincrease the intensity of acoustic emissionĒ. Which makes us want to get up and dance about in a jig.

Itís all very clever. And electric turbocharging isnít all thatís similar to Ferrariís F1 tech here, as the patent outlines an extra electric motor nestled in the carís drivetrain. Itís hooked to the same battery as the turbine and can either assist charging it, or drain it to deliver a power hit directly to the wheels, F1 KERSstyle. Expect big power from such applications.

FERRARI HAS ENVISIONED TURBOCHARGING WITH FEW DOWNSIDES

In doing this, Ferrari has envisioned turbocharging with very few downsides and given us a glimpse into what might transpire in the following years. While thereís no way of telling how far this technology has been taken within its engineering wings, itís a blueprint that shows how Ferrari might deliver on the promise of ultimate performance and its commitment to more hybrid vehicles. Importantly, it reveals whatís possible for fast cars in a turbocharged, electrified world. Bring it on.

A CHAMPIONSHIP WINNING IDEA

MERCEDES-AMG has also experimented with splitting the turbocharger, but in its Formula One cars Ė and to devastating effect. With Formula Oneí hybrid turbo era forcing an MGU-H on teams, Mercedes-AMG saw the opportunity to split the turbine and compressor on either end of the 1.6-litre V6 in the W06 racer. The shaft remained and ran in between the engineí valley and through its generator/motor. By doing so, Mercedes gained crucial advantages, with a cooler compressor gifting the team more reliability and power. It also shrunk the required cooling gear, which thinned the carí bodywork and reduced drag. Initial press shots of Mercedes-AMG F1í power units actually featured a completely different turbocharger and MGU-H design to disguise its idea. The technology, though, has become much more public after Mercedes-AMG announced its road-going Project One hypercar will launch with a de-tuned version of its F1 power unit.