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The Tesla Turbine


tesla-turbineNikola Tesla created an engine design nearly 100 years ago that is as much as three or four times more efficient than the combustion engine design that has dominated for reasons other than science.At the time of his invention around 1909, Tesla was able to demonstrate a fuel efficiency of 60% with his bladeless turbine design. The most efficient combustion engines today do not get above 27 – 28% efficiency in their conversion of fuel to work.

The politics of his day impeded Tesla’s design from being implemented. The piston engine was already well under way, and the oil barons were not encouraging efficiency. Still today, engine manufacturers resist any changes because of retooling expenses.

Meet Environmental Scientist, Ken Reili , CEO of Phoenix Navigation & Guidance, Inc.

Rieli and his associates in the popular Phoenix Turbine Builders Club that he founded, have resurrected and improved Tesla’s Turbine design. Reili thinks this technology could become the workhorse of the 21st century, gradually replacing the piston-combustion engine that dominated the 20th.

In addition to transportation, potential applications range from home generators to public utilities to locomotive power.

How the Tesla Turbine Works

In the Tesla Turbine, the fuel is combusted prior to entering the main chamber. The gases speed at supersonic velocity into the perimeter of chamber where they pass between closely packed parallel discs, causing the disks to turn. The exhausting gases exit through the center of the chamber.

The turbine does not have any blades, but is composed of extremely smooth disks — the smoother the better. You would think that the gases would glance right by the smooth surface, but this is not the case.

Wind tunnel studies from airplane wings show that the first layer of air molecules on the surface are tightly joined to it. The next layer of air molecules is not as tightly bound, but nonetheless still have some binding properties. The next layer is less tightly bound still, and so forth. As the gasses fly by, they interact with these molecules in a manner that might be compared to thrust bearings in concentric cylinders: twice the rotation on the outside race is converted into one rotation on the inside.

It works on a principle opposite the dimples on a golf ball. The indentations on the surface of the ball create turbulence on the surface of the ball, and this actually helps the ball fly further through the air, packing less resistance.

The Tesla discs, on the other hand, should be as smooth as possible. And Tesla did not invent the bladeless turbine concept. It was invented in Europe in 1832. Tesla refined the design and introduced pulsed detonation, which is not feasible in bladed turbines.

Modern Data

Another experimenter, Frank Germano, replicated the Tesla Turbine and has had a turbine in continuous operation without component failure since October of 2000. (Ref.) An engineering report posted on his site says that the “Charlie” replication by his company is documented as achieving a 42.2% efficiency at 13,000 rpm, with 14.8 horse power output. (Ref. 1, 2)

From Here to There

While Reili sees the Tesla Turbine as the engine of the future, he realizes that it will not emerge without a workable transition. Developing the turbine to a level of reliability that will meet industry expectations will take significant sums of money and engineering — albeit just a small fraction of what has been invested in the intrinsically inferior internal combustion engine.

Reili has been proselytizing the hybrid automobile sector where change is expected, not resisted. Those divisions of major auto manufacturers are the most amenable to rebuilding from the ground up. Nevertheless, three years of seeking to get their attention has thus far been largely futile.

Therefore, Reili is now focused on preparing hybrid retrofit kits that can work with most any existing vehicle. His approach offers superior power management as well as a hydraulic system for providing high torque. He envisions a network of builders clubs for do-it-yourselfers to rally together in building these hybrid vehicles.

By matching the engine and generator and motors, a vehicle can be built that can drive for indefinitely long distances as long as there is fuel for the engine — which doesn’t power the vehicle directly, but keeps the batteries high enough to run the electric motors which propel the vehicle. Later kits will include hydraulic systems to provided additional regenerative power harvesting.

Reili is hopeful that this interim approach can help finance the adequate development of the Tesla Turbine for future generation hybrid kits, then eventual full replacement of the internal combustion, piston engine, with the improved Tesla Turbine.

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  1. I read in a book about diesel engines (actually about Rudolph Diesel) that the best marine diesels of today approach 50% thermal efficiency, which seems almost astonishingly good. I’m not sure how this relates to your “fuel efficiency” stated here.

    Here are a couple of web references:

    Cummins reporting 45% brake thermal efficiency:


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