Centrifugal Air Compressors: What are they?

One thing that is found in virtually every industrial environment is an air compressor. Some uses for the compressed air generated are: powering pneumatic tools, packaging, automation equipment, conveyors, controls systems, and various others. Pneumatic tools are favored because they tend to be smaller and more lightweight than electric tools, offer infinitely variable speed and torque, and can be safer than the hazards associated with electrical devices. In order to power these devices, compressed air must be generated.

There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to highlight the most common style of dynamic compressor: the centrifugal air compressor.

Dynamic compressors are composed of two main categories: axial and centrifugal. These types of compressors raise the pressure of air or gas by imparting velocity energy and converting it to pressure energy. In a centrifugal air compressor, air continuously flows and is accelerated by an impeller. This impeller can rotate at speeds that exceed 50,000 rpm. Centrifugal air compressors are generally much larger and can accommodate flow ranges of 500-100,000 CFM, although they’re more commonly used in the range of 1,000 CFM to 5,000 CFM.

Centrifugal Pic 1

In a centrifugal compressor, kinetic energy is transformed into pressure energy inside of the diffuser. The air passes through the inlet guide vanes and is drawn into the center of a rotating impeller. The impeller has radial blades that push outward from the center due to centrifugal force. This radial movement of air causes an increase in pressure and the generation of kinetic energy. This kinetic energy is then also converted into pressure as it passes through the diffuser.

According to the Compressed Air Challenge, some advantages of the centrifugal air compressor include:

  • Completely packaged for plant or instrument air up through 1,000 HP
  • Relative first cost improves as the size increases
  • Designed to deliver lubricant-free air
  • Do not require special foundations
  • Ability to deliver large volumes of air (up to 100,000 CFM)

Some disadvantages include:

  • Limited capacity control
  • Poor part-load efficiency
  • High rotational speeds require special bearings, sophisticated monitoring of vibrations and clearances resulting in specialized maintenance considerations
  • High initial purchase cost

A centrifugal air compressor is just one of the many different styles utilized in industry to supply a variety of point of use compressed air products. If you have an application in your facility that could benefit from an engineered solution, give us a call. An Application Engineer would be happy to discuss your options with you and see to it that you’re getting the most out of your compressed air!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD


Image courtesy of the Compressed Air Challenge


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