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Course M-2019 Air and Gas Compressors

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Air and Gas Compressors (2 PDH) Course No. M-2019

Compressors are widely used in construction, power plants, process industry, assembly plant, refineries, air conditioning, and refrigeration, to mention some of the applications. Compressors are power conversion machines, like pumps and electric motors. Compressed air systems are alternatives to hydraulic systems and electric operators in many applications. For these reasons, engineers, operations, and maintenance personnel should be aware of the applications and limitations of various types of compressors. The same basic principles apply to all gas and vapor compressors, as well as air compressors. Diagrams and illustrations are taken from the following sources: Various issues of Power magazine, Marks Standard handbook for Mechanical Engineers, sales brochures from Ingersol- Rand and Gardener-Denver, and Process Engineers guide to centrifugal compressors, by Igor Karassik. AIR COMPRESSORS Compressed air is free air that has been forced into a smaller volume and is at a pressure higher than atmospheric. Some of the terms and definitions used when discussing air compressors are as follows: Absolute Pressure The existing gage pressure plus the atmospheric pressure measured from absolute zero Aftercooler Device that dissipates heat caused by compression. This also effectively removes moisture down to the saturation temperature Air Receiver Tank into which compressed air is delivered and stored Atmospheric pressure Pressure at a specific altitude. At sea level this is 14.7 psia.

Brake Horsepower Total power input required to compress and deliver a given quantity of air, including losses due to friction and other mechanical losses. Capacity SCFM Standard cubic feet per minute. Delivered capacity in cubic feet of air measured at 68 deg F and 14.7 psia. (per ASME Power Test Code, but this standard may vary). Inlet cubic feet per minute. The capacity entering the inlet filter in CFM at actual inlet conditions. Actual cubic feet per minute. Delivered CFM as measured at actual conditions at the compressor suction downstream of the inlet filter. ACFM differs from ICFM primary by seal losses and to a much lesser extent by the lower pressure condition at the compressor suction due to pressure drop through the inlet filter. Since ACFM most realistically expresses the user's intent, it is recommended that compressors be specified in that unit.



Compression The reduction of a specified volume, resulting in an increase in pressure Compression Efficiency Ratio of the theoretical to the actual required to compress air. Compression Ratio The ratio of the absolute discharge pressure to the absolute inlet pressure. Compressor A machine designed for compressing a gas or vapor from an initial pressure to a higher discharge pressure. Design Pressure Maximum continuous operating pressure. Also referred to as maximum working pressure. Design Speed Maximum continuous operating speed of a compressor.

Discharge Pressure Total pressure at the discharge flange of the aftercooler. Free Air Air at atmospheric conditions. This may vary with altitude, barometric pressure and temperature. Inlet Pressure Total pressure at the inlet flange of the compressor or inlet filter Inlet Temperature Temperature at the inlet flange of the compressor or the inlet filter. Load Factor The ratio of the average actual compressor output to the maximum rated output for a defined period of time. I Moisture Separator A devise designed to collect and remove moisture from the air during the cooling process Pressure - Force per unit area PSIG PSIA Pressure above local atmospheric pressure Equal to gage pressure plus atmospheric pressure. Loss of pressure commonly due to friction. The highest continuous operating pressure to meet the specified conditions. It is lower than design pressure by 10% or 15 psig.

Pressure Drop Rated Discharge Pressure -

Slip The internal leakage due to clearance.

Speed The number of revolutions per minute Unloaded Horsepower The power that is consumed to overcome frictional losses when operated in an unloaded condition.

Vacuum Pressure below atmospheric Volumetric Efficiency The ratio of the actual quantity of air delivered to the displacement of the compressor. (For reciprocating compressors).

Types of Compression
A brief review of the thermodynamics of gas compression is in order at this point. The perfect gas law expresses the equation of state for gases: 144pv = RT, where p is the absolute pressure in psia, v is the specific volume in cubic feet per pound, R is a constant which depends on the nature of the gas, and T is the absolute temperature in deg F. Specific heat is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of gas 1 deg F. The specific heat of a gas has two distinct values, depending on whether the volume or the pressure remain constant during the addition of heat: Cp = specific heat at constant pressure Cv = specific heat at constant volume The factor or exponent k is the ratio between the specific heat at constant pressure to the specific heat at constant volume. k=Cp/cv The value of k for air is commonly taken as 1.4.

Adiabatic compression takes place when no heat is transferred into or out of the gas during compression. For adiabatic compression, pvk = constant Adiabatic compression is further characterized by an increase in temperature during compression. Isothermal compression occurs when the heat of compression is removed during compression, so that the temperature of the gas remains constant. The equation for isothermal compression is: pv = constant Polytropic compression is characterized by the equation: pvn = constant When n=1, the polytropic compression is isothermal. When n=k, it is adiabatic. The slope of a pressure-volume curve is dependent on the value of n. If a compressor is not cooled, and the compression takes place with 100% efficiency, it would be Adiabatic. However, the inefficiency of the compressor results in the addition of heat during compression. As a result, the actual compression of an uncooled compressor is polytropic, with a value of n greater than k.

Design Classifications
There are two broad classifications of compressors; positive displacement and dynamic. Positive displacement compressors confine successive volumes of gas in an enclosed space where pressure increases as the volume of the enclosed space decreases. They can be thought of as constant volume-variable pressure machines; that is, they move a certain volume of gas with each stroke, and the pressure is that of the system into which they discharge. With dynamic compressors, the mechanical action of rotating impellers impart pressure and velocity to the gas. They are constant pressure-variable volume machines. Categories of Compressors Compressors are generally categorized as: Reciprocating, Rotary, Centrifugal, and Axial. These are illustrated below in Figure 1. Figure 2 shows approximate ranges of capacity and pressure for each compressor category.

Figure 1 Illustration of various types of compressors.

Figure 2 Approximate ranges of application for reciprocating, centrifugal, and axial flow conditions.

Reciprocating Compressors
Reciprocating compressors (abbreviated recips) may be considered for applications up to approximately 3000 ACFM. They are favored for low flow, high pressure services. They can be arranged in configurations of two or more stages, with maximum compression ratios per stage usually about 3:1 or 4:1. Intercoolers can be used between stages to remove moisture and to improve compressor efficiency. More on intercooling later. Single stage compressors may also be double acting. That is discharging through both ends of the cylinder, thus doubling the capacity per stroke. Discharge pressure is generally limited to 3000 psia for large machines, but can go up to 60,000 psia for small machines. Pressure rise per stage is usually limited by the valve design, and is generally about 1000 psia per stage for large compressors. Since reciprocating compressors are constant volume machines, the inlet ACFM remains essentially unchanged if the compressor operates at a constant speed, regardless of the discharge pressure. A reciprocating compressor will operate at any discharge pressure within the power limit of the driver. If there is insufficient air capacity in the compressor for the load to be handled, the air demand sets the pressure, which may be less than the rated pressure. If there is sufficient capacity, then a step control of the compressor can maintain the receiver pressure within a preset range. A step control unloads the compressor sequentially in several steps in 1 to 2 psi increments as the load demand decreases. If two or more recips operate in parallel, the compressors should be controlled to unload sequentially, one after the other. The cylinders of conventional reciprocating compressors require oil lubrication. Carry-over of lubricating oil can be a problem in some applications, such as instrument air. There are "oil free" recips that can be used for these applications. Oil free recips use teflon piston rings and valves, and so the air side is truly oil free except for the small amount that carry over on the piston rods. The trouble is that reciprocating compressors tend to be maintenance intensive in any case, and oil free recips with teflon rings and valves are particularly demanding.

Rotary Compressors
Rotary compressors are positive displacement machines like recips, and although they are very different configurations from recips, they do share the basic defining characteristics They compress gas by confining a specific volume of gas in a closed space and increase the pressure by decreasing the volume of the space. They are constant volume and variable pressure machines. They are configured as screw, sliding vane, lobe, and liquid piston compressors, as illustrated below.

Figure 3 Illustration of a lobe compressor and a liquid piston compressor.

Sliding vane rotary compressors trap gas between vanes as the rotor passes an inlet opening. As the rotor continues toward the discharge port, the volume of a cell between any two vanes decreases, causing the gas pressure to rise. The vanes slide in and out of slots as the rotor rotates, and are held against the casing by centrifugal force. Capacities of sliding vane units range to 5000 CFM, and single stage compression to about 50 psi. Multiple stages can by configured for higher pressures. Lobe compressors come in two and three lobe design, with capacities from 5 to 50,000 CFM. Pressures above 15 psi can be reached by connecting two or three lobe compressors in series. Lobe compressors have identical impellers, or lobes, which trap and compress gas between the outer surfaces of the lobes and the outer casing. Some screw and lobe compressors require large quantities of lubricant to be sprayed onto the rotating parts, and so are not suitable for applications requiring oil free air or gas. Other screw and lobe compressors have the rotating elements held in place with gears that prevent actual contact of the screws or lobes, so the air chamber can remain free of lubricating oil.

Centrifugal Compressors
In centrifugal compressors, the gas travels essentially radially through one or more stages of rotating impellers. The centrifugal action of the impeller produces some pressure rise and a large increase in air velocity. In the diffuser, velocity energy is converted to static pressure. Velocity decreases, and pressure increases. Pressure / volume curves are represented in Figure 4. Each curve is for a different compressor speed.

A compressor running at medium speed delivers a certain volume V1 at pressure P1. Increasing to high speed increases volume to V2 , or old volume V1 can be delivered at a higher pressure P2.

Figure 4 Characteristic curves for a centrifugal pump.

The popularity of centrifugal compressors grew as the need for higher capacities reached and exceeded the practical limits of reciprocating compressors. Multistage

centrifugal compressors can handle 150,000 CFM or more, and the lower capacity has extended down to 500 CFM.

Figure 5 Sectional view of a centrifugal compressor.

A characteristic of centrifugal compressors is surge, or pumping. Surge occurs at reduced loads. At reduced capacities, impellers do not fully load, density is reduced, and full discharge pressure is not developed. Since the pressure in the discharge line will then be momentarily higher,a reverse surge will occur. The impellers will then fill and again deliver full pressure. This cyclic effect willcause pressure fluctuations within the compressor. These fluctuations can be destructive over a period of time. Surge can occur at about 50% of rated capacity in single stage units designed for low compression ratios. Multistage units will surge at a higher capacity, perhaps 75 to 80%. A steeply rising pressure curve at reduced capacity will give an increased stable operating range at rated pressure. Such a curve can be obtained with a backward sloping impeller design.

Axial Flow Compressors

Axial flow compressors are dynamic compressors in which the air flow is parallel to the axis of rotation. The most common usage is in combustion turbines and in ventilation systems. They can handle very large volumes of air, and have a low pressure increase per stage. Multistage axials can compress air to 150 psi. They deliver a relatively fixed amount of air over a range of pressures. To prevent surging at low


loads, large axials can be fitted with a blowoff system to ensure that enough air passes through the stages to remain stable.

The compressor itself is the heart of the air or gas compressor system, but there are accessories that are generally supplied as part of the system, either integral with the compressor, or as standalone devices. Inlet Filters and Silencers Filter-silencers can come as an integral package for each compressor. They are essential to prevent particulate matter from being ingested and damaging the compressor. Inlet filters usually come in variations of oil bath or dry cartridge types. Intercoolers and Aftercoolers Intercoolers are designed to remove the heat of compression between the stages of multi-stage compressors. Aftercoolers serve the same function following the final stage of compression. They can be either water cooled or air cooled. Atmospheric air contains moisture, and furthermore, the air may pick up oil vapor as it passes through some compressors. Cooling the air down to or below its initial temperature will remove moisture down to the dew point, improving the quality of the air. Another purpose of intercooling is to improve the efficiency of compression. Refer to Figure 6 below, which is a pressure-volume diagram of compression. The work input to the compressor in the case of isothermal compression (perfect cooling) is represented by the area ABCD, and is the least possible work for a given compression. Perfect cooling means that all the heat of compression is removed, with no pressure drop in the intercoolers. The other extreme is adiabatic compression (no cooling). All of the heat of compression is retained within the air. The work for adiabatic compression is represented by the area ABCE. The dotted curve is the approximate actual compression line, somewhere between isothermal and adiabatic, and represents a certain degree of intercooling. The work input to the compressor with some intercooling is between the two extreme theoretical cases. The work saved by intercooling is represented by the area between the actual curve and the adiabatic curve.


Figure 6 Pressure/volume diagram of a compressor.

Separators Intercoolers and aftercoolers can only remove water in proportion to their ability to lower the temperature of the compressed air. Moisture separators are generally used between the aftercooler and the receiver, particularly in cases where moisture and oil cannot be tolerated in the compressed air. Figure 7 below shows some of the separator designs in use. Some use centrifugal force or rapid changes in direction of flow to throw out moisture particles. The air receivers also contribute to the removal of moisture simply by providing a chamber of low air velocity to allow the moisture to settle out and be removed by drain traps. In applications where removal of entrained oil droplets is essential, more sophisticated separators, such as coalescing filters, may be installed after the receiver. Coalescing filters use a combination of baffles and a coalescing medium to remove the maximum amount of impurities. Some of these filter types are illustrated in Figure 7.


Figure 7 Sketches of various moisture separator designs.


Drives Compressor drives are commonly electric motors, steam turbine or internal combustion engines. Recently, combustion turbines have also become popular. As previously mentioned, accessories such as these often are purchased as part of the compressor package. Control Compressor controls are used to control output and load. Steam-driven compressors usually have combination speed and pressure governors that vary air capacity by changing speed. There are two basic types of compressor controls: Throttling governors vary steam pressure, reducing it as air discharge pressure rises. Automatic cutoff governors change the cutoff point of valves within the steam cylinder. Throttling governors are used with a manually adjustable cutoff in plants that have a steady supply of exhaust steam, or where conditions are so nearly constant that automatic cutoff valves would have little chance to function. Motor-driven and other types of constant speed compressors usually have one of three types of controls: (1) Constant speed control decreases compressor capacity in one or more steps by means of an unloader. (2) Automatic start and stop control uses a starter and pressure switch. This type of control works well where air demand is intermittent with long periods of no demand, and where precise pressure regulation is not necessary. (3) Dual control is a combination of (1) and (2) . It allows continuous operation when demand is nearly continuous, and automatic start and stop when demand is low. Constant speed 5 step control unloads the compressor in five steps, reducing capacity from full load to , , , and no load as demand decreases. There also are three step and one step unloading controls for smaller compressors. There are several other considerations in designing a compressed air or gas system, such as compressor cooling, reliability requirements, and environmental concerns.

Compressors may be considered to be minor pieces of industrial equipment, but like electric motors and pumps, they are essential to the reliable functioning of many complex functions and mechanisms. As such, the design engineer and the operating engineer must be aware of their applications and limitations, and to be familiar with the definitions and terminology.