Estimating the Total Cost of Compressed Air

It is important to know the cost of compressed air at your facility.  Most people think that compressed air is free, but it is most certainly not.  Because of the expense, compressed air is considered to be a fourth utility in manufacturing plants.  In this blog, I will show you how to calculate the cost to make compressed air.  Then you can use this information to determine the need for Intelligent Compressed Air® products.

There are two types of air compressors, positive displacement and dynamic.  The core construction for both is an electric motor that spins a shaft.  Positive displacement types use the energy from the motor and the shaft to change the volume in an area, like a piston in a reciprocating compressor or like rotors in a rotary compressor.  The dynamic types use the energy from the motor and the shaft to create a velocity energy with an impeller.  (You can read more about air compressors HERE).  For electric motors, the power is described either in kilowatts (KW) or horsepower (hp).  As a unit of conversion, there are 0.746 KW in 1 hp.  The electric companies charge at a rate of kilowatt-hour (KWh).  So, we can determine the energy cost to spin the electric motors.  If your air compressor has a unit of horsepower, or hp, you can use Equation 1:

Equation 1:

hp * 0.746 * hours * rate / (motor efficiency)

where:

hp – horsepower of motor

0.746 – conversion to KW

hours – running time

rate – cost for electricity, KWh

motor efficiency – average for an electric motor is 95%.

If the air compressor motor is rated in kilowatts, or KW, then the above equation can become a little simpler, as seen in Equation 2:

Equation 2:

KW * hours * rate / (motor efficiency)

where:

KW – Kilowatts of motor

hours – running time

rate – cost for electricity, KWh

motor efficiency – average for an electric motor is 95%.

As an example, a manufacturing plant operates 250 day a year with 8-hour shifts.  The cycle time for the air compressor is roughly 50% on and off.  To calculate the hours of running time, we have 250 days at 8 hours/day with a 50% duty cycle, or 250 * 8 * 0.50 = 1,000 hours of running per year.  The air compressor that they have is a 100 hp rotary screw.  The electrical rate for this facility is at $0.08/KWh. With these factors, the annual cost can be calculated by Equation 1:

100hp * 0.746 KW/hp * 1,000hr * $0.08/KWh / 0.95 = $6,282 per year.

In both equations, you can substitute your information to see what you actually pay to make compressed air each year at your facility.

The type of air compressor can help in the amount of compressed air that can be produced by the electric motor.  Generally, the production rate can be expressed in different ways, but I like to use cubic feet per minute per horsepower, or CFM/hp.

The positive displacement types have different values depending on how efficient the design.  For a single-acting piston type air compressor, the amount of air is between 3.1 to 3.3 CFM/hp.  So, if you have a 10 hp single-acting piston, you can produce between 31 to 33 CFM of compressed air.  For a 10 hp double-acting piston type, it can produce roughly 4.7 to 5.0 CFM/hp.  As you can see, the double-acting air compressor can produce more compressed air at the same horsepower.

The rotary screws are roughly 3.4 to 4.1 CFM/hp.  While the dynamic type of air compressor is roughly 3.7 – 4.7 CFM/hr.  If you know the type of air compressor that you have, you can calculate the amount of compressed air that you can produce per horsepower.  As an average, EXAIR uses 4 CFM/hp of air compressor when speaking with customers who would like to know the general output of their compressor.

With this information, we can estimate the total cost to make compressed air as shown in Equation 3:

Equation 3:

C = 1000 * Rate * 0.746 / (PR * 60)

where:

C – Cost of compressed air ($ per 1000 cubic feet)

1000 – Scalar

Rate – cost of electricity (KWh)

0.746 – conversion hp to KW

PR – Production Rate (CFM/hp)

60 – conversion from minutes to hour

So, if we look at the average of 4 CFM/hp and an average electrical rate of $0.08/KWh, we can use Equation 3 to determine the average cost to make 1000 cubic feet of air.

C = 1000 * $0.08/KWh * 0.746 / (4 CFM/hp * 60) = $0.25/1000ft3.

Once you have established a cost for compressed air, then you can determine which areas to start saving money.  One of the worst culprits for inefficient air use is open pipe blow-offs.  This would include cheap air guns, drilled holes in pipes, and tubes.  These are very inefficient for compressed air and can cost you a lot of money.  I will share a comparison to a 1/8” NPT pipe to an EXAIR Mini Super Air Nozzle.  (Reference below).  As you can see, by just adding the EXAIR nozzle to the end of the pipe, the company was able to save $1,872 per year.  That is some real savings.

Compressed Air Savings

Making compressed air is expensive, so why would you not use it as efficiently as you can. With the equations above, you can calculate how much you are paying.  You can use this information to make informed decisions and to find the “low hanging fruit” for cost savings.  As in the example above, targeting the blow-off systems in a facility is a fast and easy way to save money.  If you need any help to try and find a way to be more efficient with your compressed air system, please contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.  We will be happy to assist you.

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

 

Where Does 25 Cents For 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet Of Air Come From?

Wasting compressed air 2

Being an Application Engineer at EXAIR you tend to do a good amount of return on investment (ROI) calculations.   This is mainly to tell customers just how fast installing an EXAIR product on their system is going to pay its purchase price back and start saving them money.

In order to do these calculations there are several variables we must know.   The list is below.

  • Cost of EXAIR Product (This is an easy one for us to know.)
  • EXAIR Product Consumption (Another easy one!)
  • Current Product Consumption (If this is an unknown, we will test it for free!)
  • Cost of Compressed Air / 1,000 SCF (This is the most common unknown.)

With these four variables we can calculate the amount of air and the amount of money the EXAIR product will save over an existing non-engineered blowoff.   Let me address the two variables which have to come from you, the customer.

Current Product Consumption – If this value is not known please don’t guess at it.  We offer a free service which we refer to as our Efficiency Lab where you send us in your existing blowoff device and we will test it for force flow and noise level.   If you don’t know what pressure you are operating the piece at we will help you find out how to get that and then we will test our products at the same pressures.   This way you get a true apple to apples comparison.   Then, once we are done testing, you will get a recommendation from us in a formal report as to what EXAIR product will best replace your existing product.  Then we will pay for return shipping of your blowoff device back to you. So, if you don’t know how much air you are currently using then give us a call.  We will figure it out for you.

Efficiency Lab
The EXAIR Efficiency Lab is FREE!

Cost of Compressed Air/ 1,000 SCF – This is more often than not, the unknown variable in the equation.  The good news is there is a general standard assumption of twenty-five cents per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet of compressed air.   This works out to be around 8 cents per kW/hr.  So even if you don’t know what you pay to compress the air, if you know what you are paying per kilowatt hour for your energy then we can calculate within reason what it costs for you to generate your compressed air. For reference, 8 cents per kilowatt-hour falls between the average US cost per kilowatt hour for commercial end-users (10.7/kWh) and industrial end-users (6.9/kWh).*

The best part of all is…EXAIR has a calculator available right on our website which provides air and dollar savings per minute, hour day and year as well as a payback in days for the EXAIR product purchase. On top of that, any step along the way that you aren’t sure of, we will help you out for free, even testing your product!

In case you would like to see the math, the formula used is below.

Basic Equation To Go From Cost Per kiloWatt Hour to Cost Per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet of Compressed Air
Basic equation to go from Cost Per kiloWatt Hour to Cost Per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet of Compressed Air

Brian Farno
Application Engineer Manager
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

*latest U.S. EIA report here