Turbos are — contrary to what one might assume — green technologies.

Turbos, even diesel turbos, are associated with high rpm and rapid acceleration. It isn’t often that people talk about turbos in association with environmental consciousness and saving fuel. However, though it is true that turbos increase torque and acceleration, turbos are in fact technologies that increase fuel efficiency and reduce toxic engine emissions.

Turbos are — contrary to what one might assume — green technologies.

High-energy density fuels like diesel have a high ratio of carbon to hydrogen. Fossil fuel hydrocarbons in low-energy-dense fuels like natural gas (methane) have a 1-to-4 or 1-to-5 carbon to hydrogen atom ratio. High energy dense fuels like diesel have ratios closer to 1-to-2. But, though a good thing in many respects, high energy density fuels with high carbon to hydrogen ratios are extremely stable.

Fuel stability is an expression used to describe the difficulty of combusting a fuel. Low energy, highly homogenized fuels like natural gas and propane are highly volatile meaning they ignite easily. A single match is sufficient to combust low-density fuels. However, it is much more difficult to get high energy fuels to combust. Using a single match to combust coal is virtually impossible. The odds of igniting a gallon of diesel with a single match are only slightly greater.

While fuel stability is an excellent quality with respect to safety and pre-combustion emissions — fuels that are high in energy density evaporate at much lower and slower rates than low energy dense fuels — fuel stability is also the reason fossil fuels with high energy density burn incompletely and produce a large number and wide variety of emissions.

That is to say, fossil fuels that are high in energy content are not dirtier than other fossil fuels; it is simply that we have yet to produce an engine, furnace, or boiler capable of producing a complete burn.

And that is where a turbocharger comes in. A turbo increases the efficiency at which diesel — an extremely stable and high energy-rich fuel — combusts. By increasing the combustion efficiency with which an engine burns diesel, a turbocharger increases the amount of energy diesel produces and reduces emissions by converting a greater percentage of diesel fuel into carbon dioxide or water as opposed to a toxic emission.

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