Industrial Utility Efficiency    

End Uses

A chemical plant spends an estimated $587,000 annually on electrical energy to operate their compressed air system. In addition, the plant has an expenditure on rental air compressors of equal or greater size - but this will not be covered in this article. The plant was built in the 1940s and modernized in the 1970s. The plant generates its own power and serves many processes. The average cost per kWh is $0.0359.
As you walk past the “sandblasting cabinet” back in the corner of the plant running alone and without the need for monitoring, does the thought of operational costs enter your mind? When it does, are you happy knowing the cabinet is automatic and does not need a full-time operator? Then, did you say to yourself, I wonder how much that abrasive media costs? How long does it last? Is this a more cost competitive alternative? Is there something that might last longer?
Chemical plants, due to their size and complexity, pose many challenges to the efficient and reliable operation of a compressed air system. There are so many places for hidden opportunities to be found in these large industrial complexes. We are normally dealing with several large centrifugal and rotary screw air compressors scattered across the complex. We encounter sites with well over thirty (30) desiccant air dryers of different types. Compressed air leaks can be found almost at will across the vast lengths of compressed air piping. Add to this the fact they are outdoor installations exposing all compressed air system components to the extremes of summer and winter. As you can imagine, it is a big task to simply understand the system.
This food & beverage plant is a large (500,000 sq ft) meat processing plant with twenty packaging lines and nine palletizers. The compressed air system is supplied from three separate rooms with seven individual lubricant-cooled, single and two-stage rotary screw compressors. The plant has four blower purge desiccant dryers designed to deliver a - 40°F pressure dewpoint.
Proper compressed air supply to the IS Machine, in glass container manufacturing, is critical. Each process requires carefully controlled pressure, air quality (dryers), and flow as necessary for optimum production with minimum scrap. Most IS machine operations, which Air Power has reviewed over the years, offer significant energy savings opportunities with low capital costs. The final results also enhance quality and productivity.
Air gauging relies on a law of physics that states flow and pressure are directly proportionate to clearance and react inversely to each other. As clearance increases, air flow also increases and air pressure decreases portionately. As clearance decreases, air flow also decreases and air pressure increases.
This article reviews portions of an audit report of a compressed air system in a food industry factory located in the U.S. Although the audit explored different supply-side options the client should consider to improve dynamic efficiency, we will focus on the demand side of the system for this article.
This brewery is a relatively large operation with nine production lines plus a keg line. There are five bottle lines and four can lines. Operations in the plant include palletizing de-palletizing, filling, packaging operations, and brewing. Annual plant electric costs for compressed air production, as operating today, are $693,161 per year.  If the electric costs of $43,016 per year associated with operating ancillary equipment such as the blower purge dryers are included, the total electric costs for operating the air system are $736,177 per year.  These estimates are based upon a blended electric rate of $0.06 /kWh.
The plant air system consists of eight, single-stage, lubricated, Sullair rotary screw compressors. All units are in good working order.  Units 2, 3, 4 and 7 are water-cooled and units 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 are air-cooled. The main plant air system has two primary compressed air dryers, a Thompson Gordon model TG 2000 refrigerated dryer, and a Sullair model SAR 1350 heatless desiccant dryer.  Both units are working according to their design. The TG 2000 uses approximately 11.2 kW and is a non-cycling type unit, and the SAR 1350 uses approximately 200 cfm of purge air to regenerate the wet tower. 
When an air system requires large quantities of air (ca. >100 m3/min) and air demand highly fluctuates during the day, it is common belief among end-users that large variable speed screw compressors can deliver significant savings opportunities by precisely matching the compressed airflow to the system’s demand. Where the daily flow demand has a variability of up to 90% of the maximum air demand, the study compares the energy consumption of six alternative solutions in terms of number of installed compressors, compressor sizes and types of compression technologies (i.e., oil free centrifugal and oil free rotary).  
This factory, located in the U.S. northeast, spent an estimated $120,000 annually on energy to operate the compressed air system. The group of projects recommended below reduced these energy costs by $73,700 or 61% of current use. These estimates are based upon a blended electric rate of $0.114/kWh.