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A Look At Twin Scroll Turbo System Design - Divide And Conquer?

By David Pratte

Back in the day, most aftermarket and factory turbocharger systems featured simple log-style exhaust manifolds. But just like on normally aspirated engines, where exhaust manifold design has become recognized as a critical element to maximizing horsepower and torque output, there has been increasing attention paid to turbocharger and turbo manifold design. Divided or "twin-scroll" turbos and manifolds have emerged as the preferred design of many of the top tuners and even OEMs, showing up on high-performance models like the Mitsubishi EVO, Pontiac Solstice GXP and JDM Impreza STI. But what exactly are the differences between single-scroll (or constant pressure) turbo systems and twin-scroll (or two-pulse) turbo systems and how do these design differences impact overall engine performance?

Single-scroll systems have been in use for a long time, and for good reason. These systems are generally compact, inexpensive and extremely durable under the high heat they're exposed to. So from a simplicity of design, packaging and reliability standpoint, a single-scroll, constant-pressure turbo system is quite appealing-especially to the OEMs that must consider more than just power production. Although log-style or simple unequal-length turbo manifolds used by the OEMs can be tweaked for improved performance or replaced by a more sophisticated equal-length aftermarket manifold, this doesn't change the fact that there's a single exhaust gas inlet to the turbo's "hot side" turbine (which powers the "cold side" compressor, force feeding a denser and therefore more oxygen-rich air charge into the combustion chamber from the intake side). Because of this design limitation, single-scroll systems are not particularly efficient at low engine speeds or high loads. This decreased turbine efficiency contributes to turbo lag, something we've all probably experienced while driving a stock turbocharged vehicle.

One of the biggest limitations of most factory single-scroll turbo system is the restrictive nature of its log or compact unequal-length exhaust manifold. Keep in mind, the purpose of this manifold isn't just to channel exhaust gases to the turbocharger's turbine wheel; the manifold must be designed to allow exhaust gases to exit the combustion chamber of each cylinder quickly and efficiently. Also keep in mind that these exhaust gases do not flow in a smooth stream because the gas exits each cylinder based on the engine's firing sequence, resulting in distinct exhaust gas pulses. Next time you fire up your car, place your hand lightly over the exhaust tip (before it gets hot!) and you will feel these pulses. With a log-style or compact OE-style, unequal-length runner exhaust manifold like you'll find on SR20DET or USDM STI engines, the pulse from one cylinder can interfere with subsequent exhaust gas pulses as they enter the manifold from the other cylinders, inhibiting scavenging (where the high-pressure pulse draws the lower pressure gases behind it out of the combustion chamber with it) and increasing reversion (where exhaust gas flow is disturbed so much that its direction of travel reverses and pollutes the combustion chambers with hot exhaust gases). The trapped and wasted kinetic exhaust gas energy from poor scavenging and too much reversion also means higher combustion and exhaust gas temperatures, necessitating less aggressive ignition timing and reduced valve overlap as well as richer air/fuel mixtures (and higher NOx emissions).

By David Pratte
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