Compressor Intake – Air Flows 

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, CFM, or liters per hour, LPH.  The trick begins when volumetric flow rates are used with compressible gases.  In this blog, I will go over the various acronyms and the reasons behind them.

What acronyms will be covered?

CFM – Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet per Minute

The volumetric component of the flow rate is CFM or Cubic Feet per Minute.  This term is commonly used for rating air compressors.  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 altitude, temperature, and relative humidity, the volumetric value of CFM changes.  To better clarify these conditions, compressor manufacturers have decided to add terms with a definition.  (For your information, air compressors still use CFM as a unit of air flow, but now this is defined at standard temperature and pressure).

The first letter in front of CFM above now defines the conditions in which volumetric air flow is being measured.  This is important for comparing pneumatic components or for properly sizing pneumatic systems.  Volume is measured within three areas; temperature, pressure, and relative humidity.  We can see this in the Ideal Gas Law, reference Equation 1.

Equation 1:

P * V = n * R * T

Where:

P – Absolute Pressure

V – Volume

n – Number of molecules of gas

R – Universal Gas Constant

T – Absolute Temperature

The volume of air can change in reference to pressure, temperature, and the number of molecules.  You may ask where the relative humidity is?  This would be referenced in the “n” term.  The more water vapor, or higher RH values, the less molecules of air are in a given volume.

SCFM is the most commonly used term, and it can be the most confusing.  The idea behind this volumetric air flow is to set a reference point for comparisons.  So, no matter the pressure, temperature, or relative humidity; the volumetric air flows can be compared to each other at that reference point.  There have been many debates about an appropriate standard temperature and pressure, or STP.  But as long as you use the same reference point, then you can still compare the results.  In this blog, I will be using the Compressed Air and Gas Institute, CAGI, reference where the “Standard” condition is at 14.5 PSIA, 68 o F, and 0% RH.  Since we have a reference point, we still need to know the actual conditions for comparison.  It is like having the location of a restaurant as a reference, but if you do not know your current location, you cannot move toward it.   Similarly, we are “moving” the air from its actual condition to a reference or “Standard” condition.  If we do not know the actual state where the air began, then we cannot “move” toward that reference point.  We will talk more about this later in this blog.

ACFM is the volumetric air flow under actual conditions.  This is actually the “true” flow rate.  Even though this term is hardly used, there are reasons why we will need to know this value.  We can size an air compressor that is not at “Standard” conditions, and we can use this value to calculate velocity and pressure drop in a pneumatic system.  We can correlate between SCFM and ACFM with Equation 2.

Equation 2:

ACFM = SCFM * [Pstd / (Pact – Psat * Φ)] * (Tact / Tstd)

Where:

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

SCFM – Standard Cubic Feet per Minute

Pstd – standard absolute air pressure (PSIA)

Pact – absolute pressure at the actual level (PSIA)

Psat – saturation pressure at the actual temperature (PSI)

Φ – Actual relative humidity (%)

Tact – Actual ambient air temperature (oR)

Tstd – Standard temperature (oR)

ICFM is one of the newest terms in the history of air compressors.  This is where devices are added to the inlet of an air compressor, affecting flow conditions.  If you have a blower on the inlet of an air compressor, the volumetric flow rate changes as the pressure and temperature rises at the “Inlet”.  If a filter is used, then the pressure drop will decrease the incoming pressure at the “Inlet”.  These devices that affect the volumetric flow rate for an air compressor should be considered.  The equation to relate ACFM to ICFM is Equation 3.

Equation 3:

ICFM = ACFM * (Pact / Pf) * (Tf / Tact)

Where:

ICFM – Inlet Cubic Feet Per Minute

ACFM – Actual Cubic Feet per Minute

Pact – absolute pressure at the actual level (PSIA)

Pf – Pressure after filter or inlet equipment (PSIA)

Tact – Actual ambient air temperature (oR)

Tf – Temperature after filter or inlet equipment (°R)

To expand on my explanation above about SCFM and ACFM, a technical question is asked often about the pressure when using SCFM.  The reference point of 14.5 PSIA is in the definition of the term for SCFM.  Remember, this is only a reference point.  The starting location is also needed as it gives us the ACFM value where the air values are true and actual.  Then we can make a comparison of actual air usage. 

As an example, let’s look at two air nozzles that are rated at the same air flow; 60 SCFM.  The EXAIR Super Air Nozzle, model 1106, is cataloged at 60 SCFM at 80 PSIG, and a competitor is cataloged at 60 SCFM at 72 PSIG.  By comparison, they look like they use the same amount of compressed air, but actually they do not.  To simplify Equation 2, we can compare the two nozzles at the same temperature and RH at 68 oF and 0% RH respectively.  This equation can be reduced to form Equation 4.

Equation 4:

ACFM = SCFM * 14.5 / (P + 14.5)

@72 PSIG Competitor:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA/ (72 PSIG + 14.5 PSIA)

= 10.1 ACFM

@80 PSIG EXAIR Super Air Nozzle:

ACFM = 60 SCFM * 14.5 PSIA / (80 PSIG + 14.5PSIA)

= 9.2 ACFM

Even though the SCFM is the same amount, you are actually using 10% more air with the competitive nozzle that was reported at 60 PSIG.  So, when it comes to rating pneumatic products, improving efficiency, and saving money; always determine the pressure that you are at.  The more you know about volumetric flow rates, the better decision that you can make.  If you need more information, you can always contact our Application Engineers at EXAIR.  We will be happy to assist.

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

Photo: Compressor equipment by terimakasih0Pixabay license

Robert Boyle the Father of Chemistry and Boyles Law

Robert Boyle, one of the founding fathers of modern chemistry and a man who changed the very way we look at scientific research. From the Scientific Method to the very laws that govern gasses, Robert Boyle was able to change the very way we look at life and solve our problems. One could say that Robert Boyle didn’t really have what you would call a humble beginning; he was born in January 1627 to the 1st Earl of Cork Richard Boyle and his wife Catherine Fenton at Lismore Castle in Ireland. When he was only 8 years of age, he was sent off to Eton College in order to study under a private tutor. In 1641 Robert would spend the winter in Florence Italy studying the “paradoxes of the great star-gazer” Galileo Galilei.

Robert Boyle

Starting in mid-1644 Robert would make his residence in Dorset England were he conducted many experiments and from then devote his life to research. In 1654, Boyle would move to Oxford from Ireland in order to further pursue his studies in chemistry. It was here in 1657 that he would read about Otto von Guericke’s air pump, and would set out to improve the system along with Robert Hooke. In 1659 the “Pneumatic Engine” would be completed and he began a series of experiments on the properties of air. He would further go on to coin the term factitious airs which is a term used to describe synthetic gases after isolating what is now understood to be hydrogen.

Though he was primarily interested in chemistry, one of Boyle’s most famous discovery was what is now known as the first of the gas laws, rightfully named Boyles’s Law.  Boyle’s Law defines the relationship between pressure and volume in a closed area given the mass of an ideal gas. Boyle and his assistant Robert Hooke used a closed J-Shaped tube and poured mercury in from the open side, forcing the air on the other side to contract under the pressure. After repeating this using several different amounts of mercury Boyle deducted that the pressure of a gas is inversely proportional to the volume occupied by it.

Boyle’s Law

In 1669 his health, although which was never very good, began to fail seriously and he withdrew from the public. In his later days he would propose some important chemical investigations which he wanted to leave as a sort of legacy for those who would were also “Disciples of the Art”, essentially future chemists. On the winters day on December 31, 1691 Robert Boyle took his final breath. In his will Robert Boyle left a series of lectures known as the Boyle Lectures the talked about the relationship between Christianity and today’s science.  

Here at EXAIR we use Boyle’s Law everyday as nitrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen (the three main elements that make up air) are all considered ideal gas. This means that all of our products are governed by the relationship between pressure and volume.

If you have questions about any of our quiet EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR or any Application Engineer.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Robert Boyle image courtesy of Skara KommunCreative Commons License

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

Robert Boyle And The Scientific Method

How do we know something is true? In grade school, you may remember being taught a process by which an observation elicits a question, from which a hypothesis can be derived, which leads to a prediction that can be tested, and proven…or not) These steps are commonly known as the Scientific Method, and they’ve been successfully used for thousands of years, by such legendary people of science as Aristotle (384 – 322 BC,) Roger Bacon (1219 – 1292,) Johannes Kepler (1571-1630,) Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and right up to today’s scientists who run the CERN Large Hadron Collider.  The collider is the largest machine in the world, and its very purpose is the testing and proving (or not) of hypotheses based on questions that come from observations (often made in the LHC itself) in ongoing efforts to answer amazingly complex questions regarding space, time, quantum mechanics, and general relativity.

The Scientific Method is actually the reason (more on this in a minute) for the name of a fundamental law of physics: Boyle’s Law.  It states:

“For a fixed amount of an ideal gas kept at fixed temperature, pressure and volume are inversely proportional.”

And can be mathematically represented:

PV=k, where:

  • P = is the pressure of a gas
  • V = is the volume of that gas, and
  • k = is a constant

So, if “k” is held constant, no matter how pressure changes, volume will change in inverse proportion.  Or, if volume changes, pressure will change in inverse proportion.  In other words, when one goes up, the other goes down.  It’s also quite useful in another formulaic representation, which allows us to calculate the resultant volume (or pressure,) assuming the initial volume & pressure and resultant pressure (or volume) is known:

P1V1=P2V2, where:

  • P1  and P2 are the initial, and resultant, pressures (respectively) and
  • V1  and V2 are the initial, and resultant, volumes (respectively)

This is in fact, what happens when compressed air is generated, so this formula is instrumental in many aspects of air system design, such as determining compressor output, reservoir storage, pneumatic cylinder performance, etc.

Back to the reason it’s called “Boyle’s Law” – it’s not because he discovered this particular phenomenon.  See, in April of 1661, two of Robert Boyle’s contemporaries, Richard Towneley and Henry Power, actually discovered the relationship between the pressure and volume of a gas when they took a barometer up & down a large hill with them.  Richard Towneley discussed his finding with Robert Boyle, who was sufficiently intrigued to perform the formal experiments based on what he called “Mr Towneley’s hypothesis.”  So, for completing the steps of Scientific Method on this phenomenon – going from hypothesis to law –  students, scientists, and engineers remember Robert Boyle.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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IMGP6394 image courtesy of Matt Buck, Creative Commons License