Pneumatic Capacitance

Brian Farno and I attended a compressed air training seminar years ago that highlighted best practices, pitfalls, calculations, efficiency, and a variety of other things facing the compressed air industry.  At the same seminar we also discussed pneumatic capacitance.

As it was laid out, pneumatic capacitance is the stored air within a compressed air system – OK, simple enough.  And, in order for there to be any stored energy, there has to be a pressure differential across the storage device – THIS was an AHA moment for me.

I guess I had never really thought about the need for a pressure differential across the storage device in order for there to really be any air stored.  I’m sure if you go back through the tests and exams I took in college there’s some question about it, and I may have known it somewhere in my studies – but the concept really clicked for me in that seminar and at that moment.

I thought about this when visiting a customer’s facility and hearing them complain of dropping line pressure during compressed air operations.  We went to their compressor room and I saw the compressors and tanks in the photos below.


(3) 75HP Atlas Copco compressors putting out 300 SCFM each. Two of these provide air to the storage tanks below. The third is for operations unrelated to this blog.


(3) 2200 gallon receiver tanks

Wow!  All this horsepower and air storage and the line pressure is still dropping?  That seems odd.

So, we checked the input and output pressure of the tanks – less than 2 PSI ΔP, effectively limiting the real ability of the tanks.  At this ΔP the tanks were little more than just an addition to the compressed air plumbing of the facility.

We checked output from the compressor and found they had been deliberately decreased to between 80 and 85 PSI.  So, I recommended to leave the output pressure of the compressors (which feed into the tanks) up to 120 PSIG, and to leave the output pressure of the tanks untouched at 80 PSIG.

This change would allow 3 minutes of steady line pressure for the existing compressed air demand (with compressors still loaded) – per tank!  (Calculations at the bottom of this blog.)

This change, while significant, was only part of the solution for this end user.  The bulk of their solution was the installation of EXAIR Super Air Knives at the point of use, which reduce cooling time, improve throughput, and lower compressed air use.

If you think your application may benefit from an EXAIR solution, contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.


Lee Evans
Application Engineer

Air calculations:

Receiver tank capacity formula

V = ( T(C-Cap)(Pa)/(P1-P2) )



V = Volume of receiver tank in cubic feet

T = Time interval in minutes during which compressed air demand will occur

C = Air requirement of demand in cubic feet per minute

Cap = Compressor capacity in cubic feet per minute

Pa = Absolute atmospheric pressure, given in PSIA

P1 = Initial tank pressure (Compressor discharge pressure)

P2 = minimum tank pressure (Pressure required at output of tank to operate compressed air devices)


In this application, the values are as follows:

V = 294 cubic feet (per tank)

T = ?

C = 857 CFM (The application required just under 3,000 cubic feet over a duration of 3.5 minutes.  3000 CF/3.5 min = 857 CFM)

Cap = 600 SCFM

Pa = 14.7 PSI

P1 = 120 PSIG

P2 = 80 PSIG


So if we manipulate the volume equation just a bit, considering that we know all the values except T, we come up with the following:

T = ( (V(P1-P2))/((C-Cap)(Pa)) )


T = ( (294(120-80)/((857-600)(14.7)) )  —  (units omitted for sanity)

T = 11760 / 3778

T = 3.11 minutes

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