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Reciprocating Compressor

Reciprocating compressors are the best known and most widely used compressors of the

positive displacement type. They operate on the same principle as the old, familiar bicycle

pump, that is, by means of a piston in a cylinder.

Figure 8 shows a cross section of a V-oriented, two-stage, double-acting water-cooled

compressor.

Rotary motion provided at the compressor shaft is converted to reciprocating (linear) motion

by use of a crankshaft, crosshead, and a connecting rod between the two. One end of the

connecting rod is secured by the crankpin to the crank-shaft, and the other by crosshead pin to

the crosshead which, as the crankshaft turns, reciprocates in a linear motion.

Intake (suction) and discharge valves are located in the top and bottom of the cylinder.

(Sometimes they may be located in the cylinder barrel). These are basically check valves,

permitting gas to flow in one direction only. The movement of the piston to the top of the

cylinder creates a partial vacuum in the lower end of the cylinder; the pressure differential

between intake pressure and this vacuum across the intake valve then causes the valves to

open, allowing air to flow into the cylinder from the intake line.

On the return stroke, when the pressure in the cylinder exceeds the pressure in the discharge

line, the discharge valve opens, permitting air at that pressure to be discharged from the

cylinder into the discharge or system line. This action, when on one side of the piston only,

is called "single-acting" compression; when on both sides of the piston, it is called "doubleacting" compression.

Initially the clearance volume in the cylinder will be considered negligible. Also the working

fluid will be assumed to be perfect gas. The cycle takes one revolution of the crankshaft for

completion and the basic indicator diagram is shown in Figure 9

1

Figure 9 Pressure volume diagram for a reciprocating compressor with clearance neglected

The valves employed in most air compressors are designed to give automatic action. They are

of the spring-loaded type operated by a small difference in pressure across them, the light

spring pressure giving a rapid closing action. The lift of the valve to give the required airflow

should be as small as possible and should operate without shock.

In Fig. 9 the line d-a represents the induction stroke. The mass in the cylinder increases from

zero at d to that required to fill the cylinder at a. In the ideal case the temperature is constant

at T1 for this process and there is no heat exchange with the surroundings. Induction

commences when the pressure difference across the valve is sufficient to open it. Line abc

represents the compression and delivery stroke. As the piston begins its return stroke the

pressure in the cylinder rises and closes the inlet valve. The pressure rise continues with the

returning piston as shown by line ab until the pressure p2 is reached at which the delivery

valve opens (a value decided by the valve and the pressure in the receiver). The delivery

takes place as shown by the line bc, which is a process at constant temperature T2, constant

pressure p2, zero heat exchange, and decreasing mass. At the end of this stroke the cycle is

repeated. The value of the delivery temperature T2 depends upon the law of compression

between a and b, which in turn depends upon the heat exchange with the surroundings during

this process. It may be assumed that the general form of compression is the reversible

polytropic (i.e. pVn = constant).

The net work done in the cycle is given by the area of the p-V diagram and is the work done

on the gas.

Indicated work done on the gas per cycle = area abcd

= area abef + area bc0e - area ad0f

Polytropic work of for the area abef is given by

Work input

1

2

1

1

1

i.e.

Since

delivered per cycle, then

Work input

and

(14)

(15)

Work done on the air per unit time is equal to the work done per cycle times the number of

cycles per unit time. The rate of mass flow is more often used than the mass per cycle; if the

rate of mass flow is given the symbol #, and replaces m in equation (15), then the equation

gives the rate at which work is done on the air, or the indicated power.

The working fluid changes state between a and b in Fig. 9, from p1 and T1 to p2 and T2, the

change being shown in Figure 10, which is a diagram of properties (i.e. p against v). The

delivery temperature is given by:

Example 1 A single-stage reciprocating compressor takes 1 m3 of air per minute at 1.013 bar

and 15C and delivers it at 7 bar. Assuming that the law of compression is pV1.35 = constant,

and that clearance is negligible, calculate the indicated power.

The actual power input to the compressor is larger than the indicated power, due to the work

necessary to overcome the losses due to friction, etc.

i.e.

(16)

./0.12340 56748

9:2;3 56748

(17)

To determine the power input required the efficiency of the driving motor must be taken into

account, in addition to the mechanical efficiency. Then

9:2;3 56748

(18)

Example 2 If the compressor of Example 1 is to be driven at 300 rev/min and is a singleacting, single-cylinder machine, calculate the cylinder bore required, assuming a stroke to

bore ratio of 1.5/1. Calculate the power of the motor required to drive the compressor if the

mechanical efficiency of the compressor is 85% and that of the motor transmission is 90%.

Proceeding from Eq. 15, other expressions for the indicated work can be derived, i.e.

Indicated power

#

# 1

1

1

or

E

C

Indicated power
# ABCD F

1G

1G

(19)

(20)

The work done on the gas is given by the area of the indicator diagram, and the work done

will be a minimum when the area of the diagram is a minimum. The height of the diagram is

fixed by the required pressure ratio (when p1 is fixed), and the length of the line da is fixed by

the cylinder volume, which is itself fixed by the required induction of gas. The only process

which can influence the area of the diagram is the line ab. The position taken by this line is

decided by the value of the index n; Figure 11 shows the limits of the possible processes,

Line

(1) ab1, is according to the law pV = constant (i.e. isothermal)

Line ab2, is according to the law pVk = constant (i.e. isentropic)

Both processes are reversible.

Isothermal compression is the most desirable process between a and b, giving the minimum

work to be done on the gas. This means that in an actual compressor the gas temperature

must be kept as close as possible to its initial value, and a means of cooling the gas is always

provided, either by air or by water.

The indicated work done when the gas is compressed isothermally is given by the area ab1cd.

Area ab1cd = area ab1ef + area blc0e - area ad0f

C

C

E

i.e.

E

C

CD

= ln C

(21)

= ln CD

(22)

When m and Va in equations (21) and (22) are the mass and volume induced per unit time,

then these equations give the isothermal' power.

Isothermal efficiency

By definition, based on the indicator diagram

Isothermal Ef+iciency

Example 3

compressor.

.963:48-2I 768J

./0.12340 768J

isentropic process (see Fig. 11). The actual form of compression will usually be one between

these two limits. The three processes are represented on a T-s diagram in Figure 12:

5

1-2' represents isothermal compression

1-2" represents isentropic compression

1-2 represents compression according to a law pVn = constant

The value of n is usually between 1.2 and 1.3 for a reciprocating air compressor. The main

method used for cooling the air is by surrounding the cylinder by water jacket and designing

for the best ratio of surface area to volume of cylinder.

3.1 Reciprocating compressors including clearance

Clearance is necessary in a compressor to give mechanical freedom to the working parts and

allow the necessary space for valve operations.

Figure 13 shows the ideal indicator diagram with the clearance volume included. For good

quality machines the clearance volume is about 6% of the swept volume, and with a sleevevalve machine it can be as low as 2%, but machines with clearances of 30-35% are also

common.

When the delivery stroke bc is completed the clearance volume Vc is full of gas at pressure p2

and temperature T2. As the piston proceeds on the next induction stroke the air expands

behind it until the pressure pl is reached. Ideally, as soon as the pressure reaches pl, the

induction of fresh gas will begin and continue to the end of this stroke at a. The gas is then

compressed according to the law pVn = C, and delivery begins at b as controlled by the valves.

The effect of clearance is to reduce the induced volume at pl and T1 from Vs to (Va - Vd). The

masses of gas at the four principal points are such that # # and # K #L . The mass

delivered per unit time is given by # #K , which is equal to that induced, given by

# #L . The properties of the working fluid change in processes a-b and c-d as shown in

Figure 14.

Referring to Fig. 13 the indicated work done is given by the area of the p-V diagram.

Indicated work = area abcd

= area abef - area cefd

Then, using Eq. 15

i.e.

Indicated power

# #L

#

(23)

A comparison of equations 23 and 15 shows that they are identical. The work done on

compressing the mass of gas #K (or #L ) on compression a-b, is returned when the gas

expands from c to d. Hence the work done per unit mass of air delivered is unaffected by the

size of the clearance volume.

Other expressions can be derived as before. From Eq. 20

Indicated power

# N

1O

1

# P L

(24)

7

therefore

Indicated power

P L AB D F

C

CE

1G

(25)

The mass delivered per unit time can be increased by designing the machine to be double

acting, i.e. gas is dealt with on both sides of the piston, the induction stroke for one side being

the compression stroke for the other.

Example 4

A single-stage, double-acting air compressor is required to deliver 14 m3 of

air per minute measured at 1.013 bar and 15C. The delivery pressure is 7 bar and the speed

300 rev/rnin. Take the clearance volume as 5 % of the swept volume with a compression and

re-expansion index of n = 1.3. Calculate the swept volume of the cylinder, the delivery

temperature, and the indicated power.

The diagrams previously shown (e.g. Fig. 13) are ideal diagrams. An actual indicator

diagram is similar to the ideal one except for the induction and delivery processes which are

modified by a valve action. This is shown in Figure 15. The waviness of the lines d-a and b-c

is due to valve bounce. Automatic valves are in general use, and these are less definite in

action than cam-operated valves; they also give more throttling of the gas. The induction

stroke d-a is a mixing process, the induced air mixing with that in the cylinder.

Volumetric efficiency, v

It has been shown that one of the effects of clearance is to reduce the induced volume to a

value less than that of the swept volume. This means that for a required induction the

cylinder size must be increased over that calculated on the assumption of zero clearance. The

volumetric efficiency is defined as follows:

v = the mass of gas delivered, divided by the mass of gas which would fill the swept

volume at the free air conditions of pressure and temperature

(26)

or

v = the volume of gas delivered measured at the free air pressure and temperature, divided

by the swept volume of the cylinder

(27)

The volume of air dealt with per unit time by an air compressor is quoted as the free air

8

delivery (FAD), and is the rate of volume flow delivered, measured at the pressure and

temperature of the atmosphere in which the machine is situated.

Equations 26 and 27 can be shown to be identical, i.e. if the FAD per cycle is V, at p and T,

then the mass delivered per cycle is

The mass required to fill the swept volume, Vs, at p and T is given by.

Q

Therefore by Eq. 26,

Q

Q
Q Q

Referring to Figure 16

Volume induced L Q K L

TU

therefore

TV

BCDF

E

i. e.

L K BCD F

E

C

Q K ABCD F

E

R

i.e.

TY TU

TZ

1G

[ E\

TZ TV NB DF

O

[E

R 1 TV ABCD F

Z

TZ

(28)

1G

It is important to note that this definition of volumetric efficiency is only consistent with that

of Eqs. 26 and 27 if the conditions of pressure and temperature in the cylinder during the

induction stroke are identical with those of the free air. In fact the gas will be heated by the

cylinder walls, and there will be a reduction in pressure due to the pressure drop required to

induce the gas into the cylinder against the resistance to flow. These modifications to the

ideal case require a more careful application of the formulae previously derived.

at 1.013 bar and 15C. The pressure and temperature in the cylinder during induction are 0.95

bar and 32C. The delivery pressure is 7 bar and the index of compression and expansion, n,

is equal to 1.3. Calculate the indicated power required and the volumetric efficiency. The

clearance volume is 5% of the swept volume.

It is shown in section 3 that the condition for minimum work is that the compression process

should be isothermal. In general the temperature after compression is given by the relevant

equation, . The delivery temperature increases with the pressure ratio.

Further, from Eq. 28

,R 1

TV

TZ

AB D F

CE

1G

it can be seen that as the pressure ratio increases the volumetric efficiency decreases. This is

illustrated in Figure 17.

For compression from p1 to p2 the cycle is abcd and the FAD per cycle is: Va-Vd ; for

compression from p1 to p3 the cycle is ab'c'd' and the FAD per cycle is Va-Vd'; for

compression from p1 to p4 the cycle is ab"c"d" and the FAD per cycle is Va-Vd". Therefore for

a required FAD the cylinder size would have to increase as the pressure ratio increases.

The volumetric efficiency can be improved by carrying out the compression in two stages.

After the first stage of compression the fluid is passed into a smaller cylinder in which the gas

is compressed to the required final pressure. If the machine has two stages, the gas will be

delivered at the end of this stage, but it could be delivered to a third cylinder for higher

pressure ratios. The cylinders of the successive stages are proportioned to take the volume of

gas delivered from the previous stage.

10

The indicator diagram for a two-stage machine is shown in Figure 18. In this diagram it is

assumed that the delivery process from the first or LP stage and the induction process of the

second or HP stage are at the same pressure.

The ideal isothermal compression can only be obtained if ideal cooling is continuous. This is

difficult to obtain during normal compression. With multistage compression the opportunity

presents itself for the gas to be cooled as it is being transferred from one cylinder to the next,

by passing it through an intercooler. If intercooling is complete, the gas will enter the second

stage at the same temperature at which it entered the first stage. The saving in work obtained

by intercooling is shown by the shaded area in Figure 19 and the diagram of the plant is

shown in Figure 20. The two indicator diagrams abcd and a'b'c'd' are shown with a common

pressure, pi. This does not occur in a real machine as there is a small pressure drop between

the cylinders. An after-cooler can be fitted after the delivery process to cool the gas.

The delivery temperatures from the two stages are given by

11

and

]

]

]

respectively. This assumes that the gas is cooled in the intercooler back to the inlet

temperature, and is called complete intercooling. To calculate the indicated power the

equations 23 or 25 can be applied to each stage separately and the results added together.

Two-stage compression with complete intercooling and after-cooling, and equal pressure

ratios in each stage, is represented on a T-s diagram in Figure 21.

minute are compressed from 1.013 bar and 15C through a pressure ratio of 9 to 1. Both

stages have the same pressure ratio, and the law of compression and expansion in both stages

is pV1.3 = constant. If intercooling is complete, calculate the indicated power and the cylinder

swept volumes required. Assume that the clearance volumes of both stages are 5% of their

respective swept volumes and that the compressor runs at 300 rev/rnin.

12

The value chosen for the intermediate pressure pi influences the work to be done on the

gas and its distribution between the stages. The condition for the work done to be a

minimum will be proved for two-stage compression but can be extended to any number of

stages.

Total work LP stage work HP stage work.

Therefore using Eq. 19

Total power

]

# N

1O

1

# AB CD F

c

1G

(30)

It is assumed that intercooling is complete and therefore the temperature at the start of

each stage is T1.

i.e.

E

1 B CDF

c

1G

(31)

13

If p1, and p2 are fixed, then the optimum value of pi which makes the power a minimum

can be obtained by equating d (power)/(dpi) to zero, i.e. optimum value of pi when

0

i.e. when

therefore

0Cc

CE

therefore

or

B DF

Cc

2G = 0

1 fg

1

fg

]

]

0

therefore

d

1

1

N

]

2O 0

]

d
]

therefore

AB c F

1

1

]

]

]

fg

]

Cc

CE

(32)

CD

Cc

(33)

=2h

i#jkE

ABC c F

E

1G

Or in terms of the overall pressure ratio p2/p1 we have, using Eq. (32)

] l

m

therefore

i#jkE

i#jkE

Also

1G

o

1G

ABCDF

E

AB c F

CE

CD o

CE

(34)

Hence the condition for minimum work is that the pressure ratio in each stage is the same and

that intercooling is complete. (Note that in Example 6 information given implies minimum

14

work.)

Example 7 A three-stage, single-acting air compressor running in an atmosphere at 1.013

bar and 15C has a free air delivery of 2.83 m3/min. The suction pressure and temperature

are 0.98 bar and 32C respectively. Calculate the indicated power required, assuming

complete intercooling, n = 1.3, and that the machine is designed for minimum work. The

delivery pressure is to be 70 bar.

Besides the benefits of multistage compression already dealt with there are also mechanical

advantages. The higher pressures are confined to the smaller cylinders and a multicylinder

machine has less variation in rotational speed and requires a smaller flywheel.

15

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