Tony O'Kane | Jul 29, 2008

Okay, so when an executive from Eaton, one of the world's largest manufacturers of superchargers, says that the engines of the near future will benefit greatly from the addition of a huffer, it's only natural that you'd take such a statement with more than a few grains of salt.

Nevertheless, disregarding the obvious commercial interest they have in promoting their product, Eaton certainly isn't wrong. As the drive for greater fuel economy and the rapid downsizing of engines has led automakers to either turbo or supercharge their eco-friendly motors, it's third-party forced-induction specialists like Eaton that'll be reaping the benefits over the next few years.

While superchargers may not be quite as capable or efficient as turbochargers in producing sheer, unadulterated power, their ability to create boost right off idle makes them a sensible choice for increasing torque in small-displacement engines. Unfortunately, superchargers also require a direct connection to the engine's crankshaft and effectively rob the motor of a small amount of power in order to produce a little more twist. Adding to the supercharger's list of cons is the limited efficiency range for each compressor type, meaning a supercharger that works well at low engine speeds may just be thrashing away at higher rpms, wasting energy and heating up the intake air.

Eaton thinks it's got a solution though, and it comes in their next generation of superchargers. Termed a variable speed supercharger, the technology works by having a small gearbox (much like a CVT) attached to the input shaft of the 'charger. This then allows the blower to be driven at its own compressor-specific ideal speed for when peak power is required, or underdriven when only light throttle is called for. A novel idea, but let's hope Eaton's technology won't be restricted to econoboxes alone...

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