Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Air Compressors

There are many choices of compressor technology and types of controls that can be used for variable demands. Some examples are rotary screw compressors with inlet valve control: variable speed drives: load/unload control; or centrifugal compressors with variable inlet guide vanes. However, in many cases, the efficiency of the overall compression process can be reduced significantly during lower flow demands, leading to more power per unit of air flow being delivered. It is very important to evaluate different available options and see how a plant can run most efficiently.
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A centrifugal air compressor operates over a range of flows and discharge pressures. The operating performance curve is shaped by the selected individual internal components and affected by operating conditions such as inlet pressure, inlet temperature, and cooling water temperature. The process of dynamic compression, as applied in a centrifugal compressor operating stage, is velocity and kinetic energy converted to pressure and temperature as the flow is restricted. Another term for this process is mass flow – the power requirement to deliver the rated cfm of flow at the rated pressure (psig) is determined by the weight of the air.
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Quite often the typical variability in compressed air flow demand does not proportionately translate into power reductions at the air compressors. This can be a result of numerous problems with the compressed air supply system. It is important to understand the supply-side’s ability to respond to the demand-side of the compressed air system. If the air compressors, on the supply-side, are not able to translate flow reductions into energy savings, implementation of demand reduction projects should be re-evaluated.  
In general, this article focuses on the definitions of terms often used to understand centrifugal air compressor performance. Comments are also made on how to measure power consumption. This article is not intended to be an engineering discussion of the various types and designs of centrifugal and other air compressors.
Rotary screw air compressor that makes its own lubricant from the surrounding air delivers oil-free compressed air to an environmental laboratory in Stuttgart, Germany - Many sensitive sectors of industry require oil-free compressed air. However, meeting this demand is often not as simple as it sounds. One way is to use oil-injected air compressors with downstream air treatment to meet the demand. A second option is oil-free air compressors, which operate without lubricants. Both versions have their own advantages as well as risks. Another alternative is to use rotary screw air compressors that use water as a lubricant.
When some people think about compressed air, they imagine the big, loud, dirty, unreliable machine in the back corner of their facility. Many businesses around the world rely on compressed air, and an unreliable air compressor can mean stopping an entire facility, costing thousands of dollars in lost productivity and repair labor. Additionally, that loud machine in the back corner is also a major energy consumer. So much so that many industry professionals refer to it as the “fourth utility.”
Compressed Air Best Practices® Magazine spoke with Mark Shedd, Head of Oil-free Air, Aggreko Rental Solutions - There are two distinct compressed air systems in a refinery or petrochemical environment: plant air and instrument air systems. Instrument air systems are almost always 100% oil-free air compressors on both the permanent and temporary systems. The demand for compressed air purity, in instrument air systems, is so high that the permanent install back-up system is usually nitrogen.
Air-operated double diaphragm (AODD) pumps are common to many manufacturing facilities. As estimated by veteran compressed air auditor Hank van Ormer of Air Power USA, approximately 85 to 90 percent of plants in the United States have AODD pumps. They are used for all kinds of liquid transfer applications, like those found in chemical manufacturing, wastewater removal, and pumping viscous food products.
Compressed Air Best Practices® Magazine and the Compressed Air and Gas Institute have been cooperating on educating readers on the design, features, and benefits of centrifugal compressor systems. As part of this series, Compressed Air Best Practices® (CABP) Magazine recently caught up with Rick Stasyshan, Compressed Air and Gas Institute’s (CAGI) Technical Consultant, and Ian MacLeod of CAGI member company, Ingersoll Rand. During our discussion, we reviewed some of the things readers should consider when installing a centrifugal compressor system.