Centrifugal Air Compressors: How Do They Work?

Centrifugal air compressors are one example of dynamic style air compressors. The dynamic type of compressors have a continuous flow of air that has its velocity increased in an impeller that is rotating at a higher speed. The kinetic energy of the air is increased due to the increase in velocity and then becomes transformed into pressure energy through the use of a volute chamber, or a diffuser. The volute chamber is a curved funnel that increases in surface are as it approaches the discharge port. This converts the kinetic energy into pressure by allowing the velocity to reduce while the pressure increases. Approximately 1/2 of the energy is developed in the impeller and the other half is developed in the volute chamber or diffuser.

1 – Basic Centrifugal Air Compressor

The most common centrifugal air comppressor has between two and four stages in order to generate pressures up to 150 psig. A water cooled inter-cooler and separator is placed between each stage in order to remove condensation and cool the air down prior to being passed on to the next stage. These compressors still have advantages and some disadvantages. The list below showcases just a few.


  • Lubricant-free air is generated
  • Complete packages up to 1,500 hp
  • Initial costs decrease with increase in compressor size
  • No special foundations or reinforcements needed


  • Specialized maintenance requirements
  • Higher initial investment
  • Unloading/waste of air required to drop system pressures

To determine which type of compressor may be best suited for your facility, we suggest to locate and contact a compressor sales company in your geographic area. When it comes to determining the volume of air required to operate the EXAIR products and even some other point of use compressed air applications, EXAIR’s Application Engineers can help you determine the volume you will need to ensure the compressor is sized appropriately. If you would like to discuss any other point of use application, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer

1 – Dugan, Tim PE – Basic Centrifugal Air Compressor, Compressed Air Best Practices; retrieved from https://www.airbestpractices.com/technology/air-compressors/centrifugal-air-compressor-controls-and-sizing-basics

Air Compressors: Air Intake and Altitude

Flow rate is the quantity of material that is moved per unit of time.  Generally, the quantity of material can be expressed as a mass or a volume.  For example, mass flow rates are in units of pounds per minute or kilograms per hour.  Volumetric flow rates are stated in cubic feet per minute or liters per hour.  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used for a compressible gas in different altitudes.

From the history of air compressors, they could calculate the volume of air being drawn into the air compressor by the size of the cylinder.  With the volume of the compression chamber and the rotations per minute of the motor, RPM, they could calculate the volumetric air flows.  As conditions change like air density, temperatures, and relative humidity; the values of the volumetric flowrate changes.

Since we are looking at the intake flow rates of an air compressor, what happens when they run at different altitudes?  I remember that when I was in Denver, I got easily winded.  Now, this could be that I was out of shape, but it was also because the air is less dense.  That means for a volume of air, the mass of air was less.  This is called the specific volume.  Air compressors work the same way.  So, let’s look at the Ideal Gas Law; Equation 1.

Equation 1:

P * v = R * T

v – Specific Volume

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

P – Absolute Pressure

In a comparative relationship, we can show the changes that can occur with an air compressor at different altitudes.  Since we are looking at altitude, the air density and pressure will change at different elevations above sea level.  If we keep the temperature the same, we can derive a formula from Equation 1.

Equation 2:

P1 * v1 = P2 * v2

P1 – Absolute Pressure at Sea Level

P2 – Absolute Pressure at elevation

v1 – Specific Volume of air at P1

v2 – Specific Volume of air at P2

Specific volume is the inverse of density, so it has the units of ft3/lb or M3/Kg.  If we use an example of a 40 CFM air compressor at sea level, it will produce 40 cubic feet per minute.  We can calculate the flow rate of air that it can produce at 5,000 feet of elevation.  The absolute air pressure at sea level is 14.7 PSIA, and at 5,000 feet, the air pressure is at 12.2 PSIA.  So, if we look at Equation 2, we can rearrange the values to find the change in specific volume from sea level (position 1) to 5,000 feet (position 2):

v2 / v1 = P2 / P1 = 12.2 PSIA / 14.7 PSIA = 0.83

With the 40 CFM air compressor, it will now only produce 40 * 0.83 = 33.2 CFM of compressed air at 5,000 feet.

When sizing an air compressor, it is important to know the conditions.  In this blog, I discussed the effects of altitude as it applies to the intake of an air compressor.  But, no matter the size, elevation, or type of air compressor, EXAIR blow-off products like Super Air Knives, Super Air Nozzles, and Safety Air Guns will help you to save energy and increase safety.  You can speak to an Application Engineer to see how.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Rotary Air Compressors: How Do They Work?

Ingersoll Rand Rotary Screw Compressor

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, control 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. We’ve discussed the different styles of air compressors here on the EXAIR Blog in the past. Today I’d like to highlight the rotary compressors, one of the positive-displacement types of compressors.

Positive-displacement compressors are broken into two categories: reciprocating and rotary. The rotary compressors are available in lubricant-injected or lubricant-free varieties. Both styles utilize two inter-meshing rotors that have an inlet port at one end and a discharge port at the other. Air flows through the inlet port and is trapped between the lobes and the stator. As the rotation continues, the point inter-meshing begins to move along the length of the rotors. This reduces the space that is occupied by the air, resulting in an increase in pressure.

In the lubricant-injected varieties, the compression chamber is lubricated between the inter-meshing rotors and bearings. This lubricant protects the inter-meshing rotors and associated bearings. It eliminates most of the heat caused by compression and acts as a seal between the meshing rotors and between the rotor and stator. Some advantages of the lubricant-injected rotary compressor include a compact size, relatively low initial cost, vibration free operation, and simple routine maintenance (replacing lubricant and filter changes). Some drawbacks to this style of compressor include lower efficiency when compared with water-cooled reciprocating compressors, lubricant carry over must be removed from the air supply with a coalescing filter, and varying efficiency depending on the control mode used.

In the lubricant-free varieties, the inter-meshing rotors have very tight tolerances and are not allowed to touch. Since there is no fluid to remove the heat of compression, they typically have two stages of compression with an inter-cooler between and an after cooler after the second stage. Lubricant-free compressors are beneficial as they supply clean, oil-free compressed air. They are, however, more expensive and less efficient to operate than the lubricant-injected variety.

Each of these compressors can deliver air to your Intelligent Compressed Air Products. If you’re looking to reduce your compressed air consumption and increase the safety of your processes contact an EXAIR Application Engineer today. We’ll be happy to discuss the options with you and make sure you’re getting the most out of your compressed air usage.

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

Photo courtesy of Ingersoll Rand CC BY 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32093890

Compressed Air Quality Classes – ISO 8573-1

ISO 8573-1:2010 is the international standard for Air Quality Classes. It lays the ground rules for acceptable levels of pollutants, particulate, moisture, and oil in a compressed air source. 

Image Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge

Though the standard has detailed standards for maximum particle size, maximum pressure dew point and maximum oil content for different industries and/or environments (see Slide show above) we can generalize a bit and express the levels of air quality like this:

Plant Air – general plant compressed air used for air tools, nozzles etc.
Instrument Air – found in laboratories, paint and powder coat booths, used for climate control.
Process Air – used in food and pharmaceutical applications, electronics applications.
Breathing Air – used for breathing respirators, breathing tanks and hospital air systems.

Achieving the different levels of air quality can be done with 3 basic types of filtration.
     1. Particulate – a filter element removes particles larger than the opening in the filter material. Typically done with particles greater than 1 micron.
     2. Coalescing – use different methods to capture the particles; 1) direct interception – works like a sieve, 2) Inertial impaction – collision with filter media fibers, 3) Diffusion – particles travel in a spiral motion and are captured in the filter media.
     3. Adsorption – the filter element holds the contaminants by molecular adhesion.


The higher the class your air needs to be the more of these filtration methods you will use. Adsorption will remove more and finer particles than a simple particulate filter. And many applications will use a combination of these methods.

EXAIR products, all of which need a source of “clean, dry air” will operate very well utilizing a source of plant air and only a particulate filter. Your process, dictate if you need to supply additional filtration methods for better air quality. For example, an automotive plant using compressed air to blow parts off will not need the kind of filtration a food handling facility will need while blowing a food product off. If you are using a lubricated compressor or have lubricant in your compressed air lines from another source, you will want to use a coalescing oil removal filter.

EXAIR stocks 5 micron particulate filters which are properly sized for each individual product as an option for our customers if they choose. We also stock coalescing oil removal filters for customers who may need to remove oil from the air. Replacement filter elements are also available and should be replaced at least twice a year, depending on the quality of your air.

Oil Removal Filter
EXAIR Oil Removal Filter

Remember to ask about filtration if you have any concerns about your air quality. We can assist in sizing up the proper filters to get the air quality we recommend for proper operation and longevity of our products. 

If you would like to see how we might be able to improve your process or provide a solution for valuable savings, please contact one of our Application Engineers.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Image Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge