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By Ali Ghanbariannaeeni and Ghazalehsadat Ghazanfarihashemi, Tehran, Iran | March 2012, Vol.
239 No. 3

Figure 1: Surge phenomenon.


Compressors, gas

Surge is defined as the operating point at which centrifugal compressor peak head capability and
minimum flow limits are reached. Actually, the working principle of a centrifugal compressor is
increasing the kinetic energy of the fluid with a rotating impeller. The fluid is then slowed down in a
volume called the plenum, where the kinetic energy is converted into potential energy in form of a
pressure rise.
When the plenum pressure behind the compressor is higher than the compressor outlet pressure,
the fluid tends to reverse or even flow back in the compressor. As a consequence, the plenum
pressure will decrease, inlet pressure will increase and the flow reverses again. This phenomenon,
called surge, repeats and occurs in cycles with frequencies varying from 1 to 2 Hz. So, the
compressor loses the ability to maintain the peak head when surge occurs and the entire system
becomes unstable. A collection of surge points during varying compressor speed or varying inlet gas
angle is fitted as surge line. In normal conditions, the compressor operates in the right side of the
surge line. However, during startup/emergency shutdown, the operating point will move towards the
surge line because flow is reduced. If conditions are such that the operating point approaches the
surge line, flow recirculation occurs in the impeller and diffuser (Figure 1). The flow separation will
eventually cause a decrease in the discharge pressure, and flow from suction to discharge will
resume. Surging can cause the compressor to overheat to the point at which the maximum allowable

temperature of the unit is exceeded. Also, surging can cause damage to the thrust bearing due to the
rotor shifting back and forth from the active to the inactive side. This is defined as the surge cycle of
the compressor.

Anti-Surge Control Systems

These systems detect when a process compression stage is approaching to surge and subsequently
take action to reverse the movement of the operating point towards the surge line (SL). This
decreases the plenum pressure and increases the flow through the compressor, resulting in stable
working conditions. It is normally achieved by opening a control valve in a recycle line (Anti-Surge
Control Valve or ASCV), returning the discharge gas to the inlet of the compressor via a suction
cooler. The resulting increase in compressor inlet volume flow moves the operating point away from
Due to inaccuracies in measurements and response times of transmitters and valves, Anti-surge
control achieves a surge control line (SCL) parallel to the surge limit line. The control line is offset to
the right of the surge line by a margin; typically equal to 3- 10% of inlet volume flow at surge (Figure
2). However, a lower margin is also desirable because higher efficiency could be obtained by closing
the recycle valve.