Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Pressure

As a reader of this journal, you are well aware that large compressed air systems often have significant wasted air — often from leaks — that represent tens of thousands of dollars of waste per year. However, it is our experience that the so-called “low-cost” measures identified often go un-repaired, while other more costly capital projects get funded. Why? With an ROI of a half year or less, they seem like IQ tests to many compressed air auditors.
After more than 25 years in the compressed air industry, it still amazes me that many plant personnel and even those who sell compressed air products for a living don’t fully understand the relationship between flow, or volume (cfm), and pressure (psig). Walk into many body shops or small manufacturing plants, and you will find the compressor operating at an elevated pressure to satisfy the “demand.” If a plant has low air pressure on the production floor, what is the first thing that the maintenance professional does? You guessed it: He or she “jacks” up the pressure on the compressor, not realizing that he or she made the problem worse.
Compressed Air Performance Specialists (CAPS Inc.) is a compressed air consultancy located in Calgary, Alberta. In its most recent compressed air project, the company reduced a 200-hp, multi-compressor system down to a single, 100-hp variable speed drive (VSD) air compressor utilizing 75 hp of compressor energy (kWh), resulting in $70,000 in annual energy savings.
Replacing air compressors, dryers and filters with more efficient models has saved electrical costs and improved compressed air reliability at the Canada Bread plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In addition to this, plant personnel found some additional savings by reducing air leakage and eliminating inappropriate uses. As a result, the plant reduced its compressed air electrical costs by 58 percent and qualified for a utility incentive.
Compressed air audits for chemical and petrochemical plants have many characteristics in common with audits in other industries, but there are some differences in the way these businesses run that impact the goals of the typical audit and how that audit is conducted. In chemical and petrochemical facilities, the reason for auditing the demand side is different than that of other industries. Additionally, there are frequently applications with opportunities for improvement that are not always seen in other industries.  
The CertainTeed Gypsum Board plant located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has renewed their compressed air system and improved their air quality, as a result of information learned at Compressed Air Challenge’s Fundamentals of Compressed Air seminar, some wise choices for new equipment, and thorough investigation of their system. A close look at their distribution system uncovered some surprising results that, once changed, resulted in better system operation. The improvements saved significant operating costs and resulted in a financial incentive from their power utility.
Energy conservation measures (ECM) associated with compressed air have received a significant amount of attention over the years, mostly due to a reasonably short financial return compared with other energy consuming equipment. Over time many of the corrective actions put forward to reduce compressed air energy consumption have been simplified with the goal of encouraging action. Although this is done with the best of intentions, sometimes simplifications and generalizations do not necessarily lead to positive results. One of the most common energy conservation measures for compressed air that leverages best practice calculations involves reducing system pressure. It is the objective of this series of articles to highlight some of the more common issues associated with estimating energy conservation resulting from changing system pressure.
Compressed air audits are valuable exercises on significant energy users in a plant.  Often done on main compressed air systems, these studies are also valuable on secondary systems, like dedicated low pressure circuits that feed production machinery.  An audit of such a system turned up some surprising results on a process that was initially thought to be very efficient.
It is common to see energy assessment specialists treat centrifugal compressors like positive displacement compressors when attempting to reduce compressed air system energy consumption. Unfortunately, centrifugal compressors are normally much larger, and miscalculations can easily represent hundreds of thousands of dollars in overestimated energy savings. These errors are not malicious; they result from oversimplified best practices perpetuated by individuals with limited centrifugal compressor knowledge. This type of knowledge is not readily available and most energy assessment specialists do not have access to engineering teams responsible for the technical development and design of centrifugal compressors.
Energy conservation measures (ECMs) associated with compressed air have received a significant amount of attention over the years, mostly due to a reasonably short financial return compared with other energy-consuming equipment. Over time, many of the recommended corrective actions to reduce compressed air energy consumption were simplified so much that they did not lead to positive results. One of the most common compressed air ECMs is reducing system pressure, and it leverages the best practice calculation —.5 percent power per psi — outlined in the Department of Energy’s Compressed Air Challenge. This article highlights more common issues associated with estimating energy conservation resulting from changing system pressure.
A couple of key principles must be considered if we want to understand and control the operating costs of your compressed air system. First, compressors pump air, they do not make pressure. The system creates the back pressure which the compressors must pump against. When the compressor delivers more air than the demand requires, the pressure rises and of course, the reverse is also true. Secondly, any component or application which forces the pressure to be higher than necessary creates wasted energy in the system. This waste is not linear to the increase in pressure but can be exponential for many reasons. However, the main contributors are artificial demand and the size of the compressors in the system.