How a Centrifugal Compressor Works

Continuing our series on different types of air compressors, today’s blog will feature the centrifugal compressor.  The centrifugal compressor is classified as a dynamic compressor.  Dynamic compressors are designed to work with  a continuous flow of air that has its velocity increased by an impeller rotating at a very high speed.

The centrifugal compressor works by transforming the kinetic energy and velocity into pressure energy in the diffuser.  The air passes through the inlet guide vanes being drawn into the center of a rotating Impeller with radial blades and is then pushed outward from the center by centrifugal force. This radial movement of air results in a pressure rise and the generation of kinetic energy.  The kinetic energy is also converted into pressure by passing through the diffuser.

Centrifugal Pic 1
Sample Centrifugal Compressor

Multiple stages are required to raise the pressure to a sufficient level for typical industrial plant requirements.  Each stage takes up a part of the overall pressure rise of the compressor unit.  Depending on the pressure required for the application, a number of stages can be arranged in a series to achieve a higher pressure.

The most common centrifugal air compressor has two to four stages to generate pressures of 100 to 150 PSIG and incorporates a water cooled inter-cooler and separator between each stage to remove condensation and cool the air prior to entering the next stage.

Centrifugal compressors are the near middle of the road regarding efficiency, their typical operating cost is 16 to 20 kW/100 CFM.  The most efficient compressor type is the double-acting reciprocating and costs 15 to 16 kW/100 SCFM and the least is the Sliding Vane which costs 21 to 23 kW/100 SCFM.

Advantages of the centrifugal air compressor:

  • Up to 1500 HP systems are available
  • Price per HP drops as system size increases
  • Supplies lubricant-free air
  • Special installation pads are not required for installation

Disadvantages of the centrifugal air compressor

  • Costs more Initially
  • Requires specialized maintenance
  • Due to high rotational speeds (can exceed 50,000 RPM) precision high speed bearings and vibration monitoring are required

EXAIR recommends contacting a reputable air compressor dealer in your area to discuss your volume and pressure requirements to determine the best size & type air compressor for your needs.

Regardless of the type of air compressor you have, EXAIR’s Intelligent Compressed Air Products® can minimize your compressed air consumption, potentially reducing the size of compressor needed, reduce noise and still deliver powerful results!   If you would like to discuss highly efficient and quiet point of use compressed air products or any EXAIR product, we would enjoy hearing from you. 

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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Image Courtesy of  the Compressed Air Challenge

A Review of Centrifugal Air Compressors

Over the last few months, my EXAIR colleagues and I have blogged about several different types of air compressor types including single and double acting reciprocating, rotary screw, sliding vane and rotary-scroll air compressors. You can click on the links above to check those out. Today, we will examine centrifugal air compressors.

The types of compressors that we have looked at to date have been of the Positive Displacement type.  For this type, an amount of air is drawn in and trapped in the compression area, and the volume in which it is held is mechanically reduced, resulting is rise in pressure as it approaches the discharge point.

types of compressors

The centrifugal air compressors fall under the Dynamic type. A dynamic compressor operates through the principle that a continuous flow of air has its velocity raised in an impeller rotating at a relatively high speed (can exceed 50,000 rpm.) The air has an increase in its kinetic energy (due to the rise in velocity) and then the kinetic energy is transformed to pressure energy in a diffuser and/or a volute chamber. The volute is a curved funnel that increases in area as it approaches the discharge port. The volute converts the kinetic energy into pressure by reducing speed while increasing pressure. About one half of the energy is developed in the impeller and the other half in the diffuser and volute.

Centrifugal Compressor
Centrifugal Compressor Components

The most common centrifugal air compressor has two to four stages to generate pressures of 100 to 150 PSIG.  A water cooled inter-cooler and separator between each stage removes condensation and cools the air prior to entering the next stage.

Some advantages of the Centrifugal Air Compressor-

  • Comes completely packaged fort plant air up to 1500 hp
  • As size increases, relative initial costs decrease
  • Provides lubricant-free air
  • No special foundation required

A few disadvantages-

  • Higher initial investment costs
  • Has specialized maintenance requirements
  • Requires unloading for operation at reduced operational capacities

EXAIR recommends consulting with a reputable air compressor dealer in your area, to fully review all of the parameters associated with the selection and installation of a compressed air system.

If you would like to talk about air compressors or any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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