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Source: A Working Guide to Process Equipment

CHAPTER

37

Compressor
Efficiency
Effect on Driver Load

ets assume that we are driving a centrifugal compressor with


a constant-speed electric motor. We are compressing natural
gas, coming right off a thousand wellheads, in Laredo, Texas.
This is not a good idea. There is entrained brine (salty water) in the
gas. The brine will dry out inside the compressor case, due to the heat
of compression. The resulting salts will deposit on and inside the
wheels or stages of the compressors rotor.
The compressor efficiency will be adversely affected. As a
consequence:
The flow of gas compressed will be reduced.
The discharge temperature of the compressor will increase.
The amp load on the electric motor driver will go down.
Why, though, does it take less work to drive the compressor
when its rotor wheels are encrusted with salt? It is true that it takes
somewhat more work to compress a mole of gas with a fouled rotor.
But the fouled rotor also compresses a lot fewer moles of gas.
Therefore, the net effect of rotor fouling is a reduced workload for
the motor driver.
Lets now assume that I am driving the same compressor
with a gas-fired turbine. The fuel-gas regulator to the turbine is
100 percent open. The turbine is spinning at 10,000 rpm. As the
compressor s rotor fouls with salt, what happens to the speed of
the turbine?
Answerit runs faster! It is easier to spin the compressor rotor
when its efficiency is impaired. The salt-encrusted wheels do not bite
as hard into the gas as would clean wheels. The amount of gas moved
is reduced, even though the rotor is spinning faster.

451
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452
37.1

A Working Guide to Process Equipment

Jet Engine
A gas- or diesel-fired turbine driver is essentially the same as a jet engine?
The burning gas spins a turbine. The turbine spins two compressors:
The natural-gas compressor we have been discussing.
An air compressor. The discharge pressure from this air
compressor might be 80 to 90 psig. The compressed air is used
as the combustion air supply to combust the turbines fuel. The
majority of the horsepower output from the turbine (perhaps
60 percent) is used to drive this combustion air compressor.
The horsepower output from a gas turbine is seldom limited by the
position of the fuel-gas regulator, as I just described in the previous example.
The limit is usually the exhaust temperature of the combustion or flue gases.
The turbines blades have a metallurgical temperature limit of 1100 to 1200F
(as designated by the manufacturer). The temperature of the exhaust
combustion gases correlates with the temperature of the turbine blades.
Now, let us again assume that our natural-gas compressor rotor
begins to foul with salt, drilling mud, and/or a paraffin wax, produced
with the gas. Here is what will happen:
1. The flow of compressed natural gas will decrease.
2. The turbine and the compressor will both spin faster.
3. The combustion airflow from the front-end air compressor
will increase.
4. The air-to-fuel ratio in the turbines combustion chamber will
increase.
5. The exhaust combustion flue-gas temperature will drop as
the air-to-fuel ratio rises.
6. The fuel-gas regulator can now be opened, because we are no
longer constrained by the exhaust-gas temperature.
7. The extra fuel gas, plus the extra combustion air, increases the
horsepower output from the turbine.
Strange to say, but we could move almost as much natural gas with a
dirty compressor rotor as we could with a clean compressor rotor. Of
course, the amount of fuel we needed to run the turbine increased
substantially as the rotor salted up. But our fuel in Laredo was selfproduced, and therefore more or less free natural gas, so we did not care.

37.2

Controlling Vibration and Temperature Rise


37.2.1 Vibration
But we learned to care. You see, rotor fouling is a double-edged
sword. It cuts two ways. One aspect of rotor fouling is loss of adiabatic

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Compressor Efficiency

Chapter 37:

Compressor Efficiency

453

compressor efficiency, which wastes work and reduces flow. The


other edge of the blade is vibration.
Eventually, the fouling deposits on the rotor will become so thick
that they start to break off, especially if you shut the compressor
down for a few hours for minor repairs to the lube-oil system. When
the compressor is put back on line, bits and pieces of grayish salt
break off and unbalance the rotor. At 8000 rpm, the high-vibration
trip cuts off the fuel to the gas turbine, and the machine is taken off
line for repair.
The compressor is disassembled. I get the opportunity to
accompany the rotor to Dallas, in the back of a van that needed a new
suspension. Once there, I watched the manufacturers machinist crew
clean and rebalance the wheels. I noticed that the salt deposits were
thickest on the middle wheel. The last wheel was only slightly
encrusted while the first wheel was clean, except for some waxy
grease.
Why this sort of salt distribution? I reasoned that the entrained
brine did not dry out until it reached the middle wheel. But by the
time it reached the last wheel, all the salt deposits that were going to
accumulate in the compressor had done so.
This gave me an idea. Suppose we injected a liquid spray into the
front end of the compressor (we eventually used a heavy aromatic
naphtha, obtained from a local refinery). This could prevent the
deposits from sticking to the spinning wheels. We tried it, and it
worked. Rotor fouling and the consequent vibrations and loss of
capacity became far less frequent.
This reminds me of something. Dear reader, you cannot learn
anything from our book. You cannot learn about process equipment
by reading about it. You have to ride in the back of the van.

37.2.2 Temperature Rise


In general, an inefficient compressor will have a high discharge
temperature. As compressor efficiency declines, less of the drivers
work will go into compression, and more of the drivers work will be
degraded into heat.
On the other hand, a high compressor discharge temperature
may be due to a larger compression ratio. The compression ratio is
the discharge pressure P2 divided by the suction pressure P1. Both P1
and P2 are expressed in psia (not in psig).
I have put these ideas together in a single equation:
Relative efficiency =

(P2 / P1 ) 1
T2 T1

(37.1)

where T2 = the compressor discharge temperature


T1 = the compressor suction pressure

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454
37.3

A Working Guide to Process Equipment

Relative Efficiency
You cannot use the information presented in this text to design
compressors. You cannot use the information presented in this
book to calculate actual compressor efficiency. Those are complex
subjects.
But we are not concerned with establishing the actual compressor
efficiency. What we wish to know are the answers to the following
sorts of questions:
What is my compressor efficiency today compared to its
efficiency last month or right after the unit turnaround last
year?
What is my compressor efficiency today compared to its
design efficiency?
What is the efficiency of cylinder A compared to cylinder B
on my reciprocating compressor?
Which is more efficientmy beat-up, old centrifugal
compressor, or my brand-new reciprocating compressor? Both
machines are working in parallel, but which has a better
adiabatic compression efficiency?
We can answer these questions using Eq. (37.1), which defines
relative efficiency. The calculated numerical value of relative efficiency
means nothing! The equation may be used only to compare two sets
of operating data. The equation is not even thermodynamically
correct. But it is sufficiently correct, provided the services represented
by the two sets of data are reasonably similar, and the compression
ratios are within 10 to 20 percent of each other.

37.3.1 Axial Air Compressor Example


An axial air compressor is like a simple, but better, version of a
centrifugal compressor. Instead of wheels and stators, it has rotating
blades and fixed vanes. In a modern, large jet engine, the combustion
air is supplied by an axial air compressor. The machine shown in
Fig. 37.1 is supplying air to a fluid catalytic cracker unit catalyst
regenerator in southern Louisiana. The operating parameters shown
on the sketch itself were taken when the compressor was thought to
be in an abnormally fouled condition. We are going to compare the
relative adiabatic compression efficiency for three conditions:
Fouled
Normal
Design

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Compressor Efficiency

Chapter 37:
Filter

Compressor Efficiency

395F
0.4 #

455

Air to
regenerator
34 #

0#
Fouled axial compressor
Eff. ~

(P2/P1 1)

75 F
T1

T2

P2

P1

Normal

65F

355F

37 #

0.5 #

Design

100F

345F

39 #

0.6 #

(T2 T1)

Atmospheric pressure = 14.7 psia = 0 #

FIGURE 37.1

Example of relative compression efficiency.

To do this, we will use the relative-efficiency equation, Eq. (30.1):


Fouled condition: (Data shown on sketch)
P2 = 34 + 14.7 = 48.7 psia
P1 = 0.4 + 14.7 = 14.3 psia
P2
1 = 2.406
P1

T2 T1 = 395 75 = 320
Relative efficiency =

2.406
= .00752
320

Normal condition:
Relative efciency = .00911
Design condition:
Relative efciency = .01147
From these relative-efficiency values, we can draw the following
conclusions:
The axial compressor running in the fouled condition is
operating at only 82.5 percent of its normal condition efficiency.
This means that the fouling problem is really rather severe.
The adiabatic compression efficiency of the air compressor,
running in its normal condition, is only 79.4 percent of its design

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A Working Guide to Process Equipment


condition. The manufacturers design adiabatic compression
efficiency is quoted as 81 percent. Therefore, the normal
condition adiabatic compression efficiency is approximately
81% 79.4% = 64.3%
Not too good! A detergent solution was injected into the air intake
of the axial compressor, and the adiabatic compression efficiency
recovered to about 80 percent.
I like to calculate the relative compression efficiency because I do
not have to know the flow of process gas. I do not have to know the
driver horsepower output, the steam to the turbine, the fuel gas to
the gas turbine, or the speed of the compressor. I do not have to know
Z (the gas compressibility factor) or K (the ratio of the specific heats).
The things I do have to knowthe suction and discharge temperature
and pressureI can check with my own hands and my own tools.

37.3.2

Parallel Compressors

Let us assume that a reciprocating compressor has two cylinders


working in parallel. Each cylinder has both a crank-end section
and a head-end suction, where gas is compressed. In effect, we have
four small compressors working in parallel. The inlet and outlet
pressures, and hence the compression ratio, for each of these four
minicompressors are the same. The relative efficiency for each
minicompressor is then
Relative efficiency =

1
T2 T1

You can measure these temperatures with an infrared, noncontact


temperature gun. True, this only tells us pipe external temperatures, but
as long as we are consistent, use of such skin temperatures is acceptable.
Using this easy technique, we can guide the maintenance effort as
to which reciprocating compressor valves must be overhauled and
which valves are working correctly.
Caution: If the inlet side temperature for any cylinder end is hotter
than the main gas inlet header pipe, then there is zero gas flow
through this cylinder end. The adiabatic and relative compression
efficiencies are also zero.

37.4

Relative Work: External Pressure Losses


Liz and I had a project to expand the wet-gas compressor capacity of
a centrifugal machine in Pasadena, Texas. We ran a pressure survey
on the compressor system, as summarized in Fig. 37.2.
Our client had been monitoring the inlet pressure to the
compressor at the P1 pressure point. But we found that the actual
compressor inlet pressure was 2 psi lower, due to the in-line basket

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Compressor Efficiency

Chapter 37:
P1
4 psig

Wet gas

Compressor Efficiency
P2
46 psig

2 psig

In-line
filter
basket

Drum

FIGURE 37.2

457

Compressor

In-line basket filter reduces apparent compressor efficiency.

filter. This filter had apparently never been cleaned. Our client then
asked us to calculate the percent of the motor amps being wasted
across the partially plugged basket filter.
To answer this question, we may use the following formula:
P
Relative work = 2
P1

( K 1)/K

The ratio of the specific heats K for the gas was 1.33. Therefore
K 1 1.33 1.00
=
= 0.25
K
1.33
Atmospheric pressure in Pasadena on the day our data were
taken equaled 15 psia, or 30.6 Hg.
Therefore, the relative work required by the compressor, with the
existing restriction of the fouled filter, was
46 + 15
Relative work, fouled filter =
2 + 15

0.25

1 = 0.376

The relative work required by the compressor, without the


restriction of the fouled filter, would have been
46 + 15
Relative work, clean filter =
4 + 15

0.25

1 = 0.338

The percent of adiabatic compression work that was being wasted


across the partially plugged in-line filter basket was then
0.376 0.338 0.038
=
= 10.1%
0.376
0.376
This seems like a rather large loss for a small, 2-psi pressure drop.
But after the filter basket was pulled and cleaned, and the compressor

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A Working Guide to Process Equipment


was returned to service, the accuracy of the calculation was proved.
About 10 percent more moles of gas could be handled, with
approximately the same amperage load, on the electric motor driver.
A nice example of the Second Law of Thermodynamics in action.
If you want to be lazy and use Eq. (37.1) and ignore the fractional
exponent, the work wasted would have been 11.3 percent. That is,
you could just take the ratio of 19 psia divided by 17 psia. Liz calls
this, Norming a problem. Meaning its a quick, approximate, and
lazy way of getting to the answer.

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