What is an Intercooler and how does it work?

Intercoolers play a vital role in ensuring turbocharged engines operate at their optimum efficiency. Find out how they work and the types of intercoolers available.

Intercoolers (also known as Charge Air Coolers) improve the combustion efficiency of engines fitted with forced induction (either a turbocharger or supercharger) increasing the engines’ power, performance and fuel efficiency.

Turbochargers compress incoming combustion air, which increases its internal energy, but also raises its temperature. Hot air is less dense than cool air, which reduces its combustion efficiency.

However, by installing an intercooler between the turbocharger and the engine, incoming compressed air is cooled before it reaches the engine, restoring its density to give optimum combustion performance.

An intercooler acts as a heat exchanger, removing the heat generated during the turbochargers’ compression process. It does this by transferring the heat to another cooling medium, which is usually either air or water.

Air-cooled (also known as air blast) intercoolers

In the automotive industry, the increasing demand for more efficient engines, with lower emissions has resulted in many manufacturers developing much smaller capacity, turbocharged engines to help them achieve the desired combination of performance and fuel efficiency.

In most automotive installations, adequate cooling can be provided by an air-cooled intercooler, which works much like a car radiator. Cooler ambient air is drawn to the intercooler by the vehicle’s forward motion and then travels through cooling fins, transferring heat from the turbocharged air, to the cooler ambient air.

Water-cooled intercoolers

Where air cooling isn’t suitable, water-cooled intercoolers are an extremely efficient solution. Usually based on a ‘shell and tube’ heat exchanger design, cooling water flows through the central tube ‘core’ of the unit, whilst the hot charge air flows around the exterior of the tubes,  transferring its heat as it travels through the heat exchanger’s inner ‘shell’. Once cooled, the air exits the intercooler and is piped to the engine’s combustion chamber.

Water-cooled intercoolers are precision engineered components, which are designed to cope with the high air temperatures of the compressed combustion air.

Bowman manufacture a wide range of water-cooled Charge Air Coolers (Intercoolers) which are suitable for cooling both marine or land-based engines, using virtually any cooling medium, including salt water, fresh water, or mineral rich/contaminated water. The units offer heat rejection ranging from 5.3 kW to 146.6 kW and are proven worldwide.

For more information, visit the Charge Air Coolers product page or call the sales team on +44 (0)121 359 5401.