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A gas compressor is a mechanical device that increases the pressure of a gas by reducing its volume.

Compressors are similar to pumps: both increase the pressure on a fluid and both can transport the fluid through a pipe. As gases are compressible, the compressor also reduces the volume of a gas. Liquids are relatively incompressible, so the main action of a pump is to transport liquids.

Types of compressors Edit

The main types of gas compressors are illustrated and discussed below:

Centrifugal compressors Edit

Main article: Centrifugal compressor

Centrifugal compressors use a vaned rotating disk or impeller in a shaped housing to force the gas to the rim of the impeller, increasing the velocity of the gas. A diffuser (divergent duct) section converts the velocity energy to pressure energy. They are primarily used for continuous, stationary service in industries such as oil refineries, chemical and petrochemical plants and natural gas processing plants.[1][2][3] Their application can be from 100 hp (75 kW) to thousands of horsepower. With multiple staging, they can achieve extremely high output pressures greater than 10,000 psi (69 MPa).

Many large snow-making operations (like ski resorts) use this type of compressor. They are also used in internal combustion engines as superchargers and turbochargers. Centrifugal compressors are used in small gas turbine engines or as the final compression stage of medium sized gas turbines.

Diagonal or mixed-flow compressorsEdit

Main article: Diagonal or mixed-flow compressor

Diagonal or mixed-flow compressors are similar to centrifugal compressors, but have a radial and axial velocity component at the exit from the rotor. The diffuser is often used to turn diagonal flow to the axial direction. The diagonal compressor has a lower diameter diffuser than the equivalent centrifugal compressor.

Axial-flow compressorsEdit

Main article: Axial-flow compressor
File:Axial compressor.gif

Axial-flow compressors use a series of fan-like rotating rotor blades to progressively compress the gas flow. Stationary stator vanes, located downstream of each rotor, redirect the flow onto the next set of rotor blades.[1] The area of the gas passage diminishes through the compressor to maintain a roughly constant axial Mach number. Axial-flow compressors are normally used in high flow applications, such as medium to large gas turbine engines. They are almost always multi-staged. Beyond about 4:1 design pressure ratio, variable geometry is often used to improve operation.

Reciprocating compressorsEdit

Main article: Reciprocating compressor

Reciprocating compressors use pistons driven by a crankshaft. They can be either stationary or portable, can be single or multi-staged, and can be driven by electric motors or internal combustion engines.[1][4] [5] Small reciprocating compressors from 5 to 30 horsepower (hp) are commonly seen in automotive applications and are typically for intermittent duty. Larger reciprocating compressors up to 1000 hp are still commonly found in large industrial applications, but their numbers are declining as they are replaced by various other types of compressors. Discharge pressures can range from low pressure to very high pressure (>5000 psi or 35 MPa). In certain applications, such as air compression, multi-stage double-acting compressors are said to be the most efficient compressors available, and are typically larger, noisier, and more costly than comparable rotary units.[6]

Rotary screw compressorsEdit

Main article: Rotary screw compressor

Rotary screw compressors use two meshed rotating positive-displacement helical screws to force the gas into a smaller space.[1][7][8] These are usually used for continuous operation in commercial and industrial applications and may be either stationary or portable. Their application can be from 3 hp (2.24 kW) to over 500 hp (375 kW) and from low pressure to very high pressure (>1200 psi or 8.3 MPa). They are commonly seen with roadside repair crews powering air-tools. This type is also used for many automobile engine superchargers because it is easily matched to the induction capacity of a piston engine.

Rotary vane compressorsEdit

Template:See also

Rotary vane compressors consist of a rotor with a number of blades inserted in radial slots in the rotor. The rotor is mounted offset in a larger housing which can be circular or a more complex shape. As the rotor turns, blades slide in and out of the slots keeping contact with the outer wall of the housing.[1] Thus, a series of decreasing volumes is created by the rotating blades. Rotary Vane compressors are, with piston compressors one of the oldest of compressor technologies.

With suitable port connections, the devices may be either a compressor or a vacuum pump. They can be either stationary or portable, can be single or multi-staged, and can be driven by electric motors or internal combustion engines. Dry vane machines are used at relatively low pressures (e.g., 2 bar) for bulk material movement whilst oil-injected machines have the necessary volumetric efficiency to achieve pressures up to about 13 bar in a single stage. A rotary vane compressor is well suited to electric motor drive and is significantly quieter in operation than the equivalent piston compressor.

Scroll compressorsEdit

Main article: Scroll compressor
File:Two moving spirals scroll pump.gif

A scroll compressor, also known as scroll pump and scroll vacuum pump, uses two interleaved spiral-like vanes to pump or compress fluids such as liquids and gases. The vane geometry may be involute, archimedean spiral, or hybrid curves.[9][10][11] They operate more smoothly, quietly, and reliably than other types of compressors in the lower volume range.

Often, one of the scrolls is fixed, while the other orbits eccentrically without rotating, thereby trapping and pumping or compressing pockets of fluid or gas between the scrolls.

Diaphragm compressorsEdit

Main article: Diaphragm compressor

A diaphragm compressor (also known as a membrane compressor) is a variant of the conventional reciprocating compressor. The compression of gas occurs by the movement of a flexible membrane, instead of an intake element. The back and forth movement of the membrane is driven by a rod and a crankshaft mechanism. Only the membrane and the compressor box come in touch with the gas being compressed.[1]

Diaphragm compressors are used for hydrogen and compressed natural gas (CNG) as well as in a number of other applications.


The photograph included in this section depicts a three-stage diaphragm compressor used to compress hydrogen gas to 6,000 psi (41 MPa) for use in a prototype hydrogen and compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station built in downtown Phoenix, Arizona by the Arizona Public Service company (an electric utilities company). Reciprocating compressors were used to compress the natural gas.

The prototype alternative fueling station was built in compliance with all of the prevailing safety, environmental and building codes in Phoenix to demonstrate that such fueling stations could be built in urban areas.

Temperature Edit

Main article: Gas laws

Compression of a gas naturally increases its temperature.

In an attempt to model the compression of gas, there are two theoretical relationships between temperature and pressure in a volume of gas undergoing compression. Although neither of them model the real world exactly, each can be useful for analysis. A third method measures real-world results:

  • Isothermal - This model assumes that the compressed gas remains at a constant temperature throughout the compression or expansion process. In this cycle, internal energy is removed from the system as heat at the same rate that it is added by the mechanical work of compression. Isothermal compression or expansion more closely models real life when the compressor has a large heat exchanging surface, a small gas volume, or a long time scale (i.e., a small power level). Compressors that utilize inter-stage cooling between compression stages come closest to achieving perfect isothermal compression. However, with practical devices perfect isothermal compression is not attainable. For example, unless you have an infinite number of compression stages with corresponding intercoolers, you will never achieve perfect isothermal compression.
  • Adiabatic - This model assumes that no energy (heat) is transfered to or from the gas during the compression, and all supplied work is added to the internal energy of the gas, resulting in increases of temperature and pressure. Theoretical temperature rise is T2 = T1·Rc(k-1)/k, with T1 and T2 in degrees Rankine or kelvins, and k = ratio of specific heats (approximately 1.4 for air). R is the compression ratio; being the absolute outlet pressure divided by the absolute inlet pressure. The rise in air and temperature ratio means compression does not follow a simple pressure to volume ratio. This is less efficient, but quick. Adiabatic compression or expansion more closely model real life when a compressor has good insulation, a large gas volume, or a short time scale (i.e., a high power level). In practice there will always be a certain amount of heat flow out of the compressed gas. Thus, making a perfect adiabatic compressor would require perfect heat insulation of all parts of the machine. For example, even a bicycle tire pump's metal tube becomes hot as you compress the air to fill a tire.
  • Polytropic - This model takes into account both a rise in temperature in the gas as well as some loss of energy (heat) to the compressor's components. This assumes that heat may enter or leave the system, and that input shaft work can appear as both increased pressure (usually useful work) and increased temperature above adiabatic (usually losses due to cycle efficiency). Compression efficiency is then the ratio of temperature rise at theoretical 100 percent (adiabatic) vs. actual (polytropic).

In the case of the fire piston and the heat pump, people desire temperature change, and compressing gas is only a means to that end.

Staged compression Edit

Since compression generates heat, the compressed gas is to be cooled between stages making the compression less adiabatic and more isothermal. The inter-stage coolers cause condensation meaning water separators with drain valves are present. In the case of small reciprocating compressors, the compressor flywheel may drive a cooling fan that directs ambient air across the intercooler of a two or more stage compressor.

Because of mechanical limitations and to increase efficiency, most compressors utilize staged compression, usually with intercooling between stages. In the case of centrifugal compressors, commercial designs currently do not exceed more than a 3.5 to 1 ratio in any one stage. Because rotary screw compressors can make use of cooling lubricant to remove the heat of compression, they very often exceed a 9 to 1 ratio. For instance, in a typical diving compressor the air is compressed in three stages. If each stage has a compression ratio of 7 to 1, the compressor can output 343 times atmospheric pressure (7 x 7 x 7 = 343 Atmospheres).

Prime movers Edit

There are many options for the "prime mover" or motor which powers the compressor:

Applications Edit

Gas compressors are used in various applications where either higher pressures or lower volumes of gas are needed:

See also Edit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Template:Cite book
  2. Template:Cite book
  3. Template:Cite book
  4. Template:Cite book
  5. Reciprocating Compressor Basics Adam Davis, Noria Corporation, Machinery Lubrication, July 2005
  6. Introduction to Industrial Compressed Air Systems
  7. Screw Compressor Describes how screw compressors work and include photographs.
  8. Technical Centre Discusses oil-flooded screw compressors including a complete system flow diagram
  9. Tischer, J., Utter, R: “Scroll Machine Using Discharge Pressure For Axial Sealing,” U.S. Patent 4522575, 1985.
  10. Caillat, J., Weatherston, R., Bush, J: “Scroll-Type Machine With Axially Compliant Mounting,” U.S. Patent 4767293, 1988.
  11. Richardson, Jr., Hubert: “Scroll Compressor With Orbiting Scroll Member Biased By Oil Pressure,” U.S. Patent 4875838, 1989.

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