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Are Air Bearings for Turbochargers the Future of the Auto Industry?

Are Air Bearings for Turbochargers the Future of the Auto Industry?

Can you imagine a life without oil changes for your vehicle?

What if your transportation company could slash the time and cost spent in maintenance for your transportation fleet?

Think it can’t happen?

Believe it or not, the potential use of air bearings may provide an innovative solution to make these dreams a reality, from the personal to the commercial automotive consumer.

Note: The air bearings mentioned in the industry case below are based on gas foil bearing technology; New Way’s porous media air bearing technology is contrasted at the bottom of this article.

Charging Ahead

Automotive design continues to evolve as the quest intensifies for efficient and environmentally friendly transportation options. One of the focus areas are the traditional oil-based bearings. Engineers are now looking to air bearings as an alternative in turbochargers, realizing the advantages of an oil-free system.

With air bearings, pressurized air is used to separate the shaft from the bearing, instead of traditional oil lubricant. There is no contact, resulting in zero friction, as well as eliminating wear and energy losses. Let’s take a closer look at how this fundamental change in bearing technology can transform the automotive industry.

3 Ways Air Bearings are Transforming the Auto Industry

1) Reduced Maintenance Time & Cost

The use of air in place of oil greatly minimizes and simplifies maintenance requirements for the vehicle. The result of the use of air and no contact equates to:

  • No periodic downtime for oil changes, including cost and hassle
  • No wear equating to less maintenance and replacement of parts
  • No contamination concerns
  • No overheating of bearing-based components causing damage

The result of all of these is not only a time-savings but significant cost savings. While this is definitely appealing to the average consumer, when viewed from the perspective of a commercial distributor, this can be a game changer! Downtime for a commercial provider is costly not only because of the actual maintenance performed, but the work potentially lost during the downtime. Drastically reducing the time the fleet is in maintenance results in increased operating time, cost savings and possibly greater profit as a result of the increased availability of resources.

A company recognizing these benefits is Walmart, who is committed to green transportation since it owns one of the largest private fleets of trucks in the nation. One of the methods of reaching their green goals is the prototype of a new tractor-trailer truck. This truck utilizes a hybrid-electric drive coupled with a microturbine engine to provide the necessary electric when needed. The microturbine engine utilizes air bearings so no oil and its associated maintenance are required. This was one of the ways Walmart saw to achieve their green goals.

The advantages to using air bearings don’t just stop at maintenance, which leads us to the next way air bearings are shaking things up.

2) Increased Fuel Efficiency

The other implication of the use of air bearings is the gain in fuel efficiency. Hybrid vehicles typically utilize a traditional reciprocating engine with pistons, as compared to microturbine engines, which are significantly simpler with less moving parts. A microturbine engine using air bearings sees an even greater increase in mechanical efficiency (no pistons,) which translates into lower fuel consumption.

In the Walmart prototype, the air bearings not only allowed for a decrease in maintenance but also minimized fuel consumption. While companies like Walmart with large fleets obviously can benefit from this, the individual consumer also can have hope for greater fuel efficiency as companies have begun using them in high-tech concept cars.

Techrules, a Chinese-based research, and development company, recently released its Turbine Recharging Electric Vehicle (TREV), a high-tech concept car claiming 1030 HP and 1300 MPG! One of its unique features is the use of a microturbine employing air bearing technology to be used as a range extender. Their design is touted as being more economical to produce and capable of mass production. The continued development of this car will no doubt lay the foundation for how air bearings can be utilized in mainstream vehicles, providing better fuel efficiency to the everyday driver.

3) Minimized Emissions

This is an obvious byproduct of increased fuel efficiency. As less fuel is consumed, exhaust emissions are reduced. A move to air bearings in personal and commercial vehicles could have a combined dramatic reduction in automotive emissions impacting air quality, particularly in cities and high traffic areas.

Not All Air Bearings are Created Equal

As with all things, consumers have choices. Air bearings are no different. New Way® prides itself on providing superior performance that is repeatable. This is the case with New Way’s off-the-shelf air bearings as well as with any customized products developed for customers. How can New Way make this claim? It all comes down to the design choice for the air bearing.

The main differentiating feature is how air is distributed across the bearing face. In some designs, such as grooved or orifice designs, the air is provided through one or more hole(s)/grooves to provide clearance. New Way utilizes an alternative approach by employing porous media where the air is delivered through a permeable material formed with millions of holes that allow the distribution of air.

Orifice technology is known for exhibiting pressure gradients. This can result in contact causing damage and performance loss, as well as being difficult to repair. Porous media air bearings also have superior qualities when compared to gas foil bearings, which are not non-contact upon start-up (they run aerodynamically as opposed to aerostatically). Furthermore, gas foil bearings don’t carry similar loads to what is achievable by porous media air bearings. With the use of porous media, the air is evenly distributed, ensuring there is never any contact.

New Way has a 25-year history using its Porous Media Technology™ manufacturing air bearings for the machine tool, semiconductor, and medical industries. New Way’s Porous Media Technology is the foundation behind all of its products to provide Frictionless Motion®. The porous carbon material provides an even air distribution permitting smaller gaps. The gap size directly impacts the stiffness; the smaller the gap, the greater the stiffness. Stiffness drives performance consistency, a crucial attribute in turbocharger design.

New Way Thrust Bushings provide an ideal application of an air bearing for a turbocharger. These thrust bushings allow for radial motion but constrain one end axially to prevent linear motion in one direction. Built with New Way’s Porous Media Technology, these thrust bushings provide the stiffness required to provide the consistent performance demanded by the automotive industry.

All Charged Up & Ready to Go!

Whether your interest is improved fuel efficiency, maintenance time/cost, or air quality, air bearings play a role in making green transportation a reality. Through its proven Porous Media Technology, New Way provides air bearings for turbochargers as the mechanism to take the automotive industry to the next level.

If you’re charged up and ready to use a frictionless bearing solution, tell us more about your project! Or contact us today for a complimentary consultation for using New Way Air Bearings in your turbocharger design.

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