The above drawing may not look like much at first glance, but this recently filed European patent application is most likely giving us a rare peek into the future of Ferrari engines. At its heart, what you are looking at here is a turbocharged four-cylinder block that utilizes a couple of clever ideas to optimize power output, and at the same time engineers its sound in such a way that will still satisfy fans of the brand.
Turbochargers are nothing new and have found use in many a sports car from Maranello over the years, but the one currently being worked on by Ferrari is quite a bit different. A conventional turbo consists of a turbine placed in the exhaust stream of the vehicle, and a compressor that force-feeds fresh air into the engine. The two are usually connected by a single common shaft, and operate at the same time. The faster the turbine spins, the more fresh air is being rammed into the intake. The electric turbo system proposed by the Italian engineers separates the two components for a new type of setup. The turbine is still sitting nicely in the exhaust stream where it can rotate at high speed, but instead of directly driving the compressor, it rotates an electric generator. This, in turn, charges a small battery, which then sends juice to an electric motor that powers the compressor, making the two components mechanically independent.
Separating the turbine and the compressor in this way has a number of advantages. For starters, it allows the parts to be installed in different areas around the engine, which can help optimize airflow and use of space. Then, of course, it is a massive step toward eliminating turbo lag, which is the time between your foot pressing down the accelerator and the turbo actually getting up to speed and catapulting you forward. Having a compressor that can spin independently from the turbine means you always have plenty of instant boost available, which in turn gives the engine a sharper response and virtually eliminates turbo lag. The patent also refers to an optional reversible electric motor that can be mechanically connected to the driveshaft of this gasoline engine. During times when the electric turbo setup is running on full whack, it will inevitably generate more electricity than the battery can store or the compressor can use. This extra juice will then be directed to the electric motor on the driveshaft, giving the car a subtle hybrid power boost.
The electric turbo system proposed by Ferrari separates the turbine and the compressor for a new type of setup
Where the sound of internal-combustion engines is concerned, automakers are currently facing a bit of a dilemma. Having the right noise come out of the exhaust is an integral part of the sports-car experience, but ever stricter noise regulations—particularly in Europe—mean that active exhaust systems might soon be outlawed. To ensure that a Ferrari still has worthy acoustic emissions, boffins at the company’s R&D department are planning to use the electric turbo setup for some clever sound engineering. Because the speed at which the generator operates is electronically controlled, it can be used to regulate how much energy is absorbed from the exhaust gases. This means the car can be made quieter or louder simply by changing how much the turbine is being used. For maximum show-off purposes, the generator can be almost switched off, allowing the exhaust gases to play the chrome trumpets to full effect. When it’s time to put the hammer down again, the generator switches to maximum and therefore absorbs more mechanical energy and sound, making for a quieter but faster getaway.
So far, it seems this whole setup is just an idea, but it shows that the internal-combustion engine is still very much alive and is being worked on for future uses. We have no idea if or when Ferrari will use this mill, but if it really turns out to be a four-cylinder block, then it might also find its way into other brands such as Alfa Romeo. Anyway, don’t be surprised if, at some point in the future, you read about a new electrically turbocharged Ferrari engine going into production.