Weight is the mortal enemy of performance and efficiency. One of the most effective ways of increasing a vehicle’s fuel economy and improving its driving dynamics is to cut unnecessary mass. Every component is fair game for optimization, including turbochargers.
You’re probably thinking there’s not a lot of weight that can be removed from one of these blowers, after all they’re not that large to begin with. Challenging convention, engineers at supplier company Continental have managed to produce a turbo that’s nearly 30 percent lighter.
The unit they developed features an aluminum turbine housing instead of one made from heavier iron or steel. This lightweight metal might not seem capable of withstanding the intense heat of vehicle exhaust and if the turbo were built in a conventional manner it probably wouldn’t.
Continental’s major innovation with this blower is that the housing is double-walled and features a generous water jacket around it. With abundant coolant in close proximity to the hottest parts of the turbo, internal temperatures are kept in check, never exceeding 350 degrees Celsius, roughly 662 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are multiple benefits to its cool operation. Since the turbo housing never gets insanely hot, further weight savings can be realized because other components mounted in close proximity to the turbocharger do not have to be as aggressively shielded from heat. Additionally the thermal load on a vehicle’s catalytic converter is reduced since the exhaust gets partially cooled as it exits the turbo.
Best of all this is not a science experiment; it works in the real world. This turbo can be found under the hood of MINIs powered by the company’s 1.5-liter, three-cylinder engine. Continental worked closely with BMW. For reference this powerplant delivers 134 hp and 162 lb-ft.
By using aluminum, engineers were able to shave nearly three pounds off the total weight of the turbocharger, but that’s not all. This choice saved money as well. The lightweight metal is cheaper than nickel-based alloys typically used in turbo housings. Their decision to go with aluminum more than offset the additional costs incurred by implementing liquid cooling.
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