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An air compressor is a device that converts power (usually from an electric motor, a diesel engine or a gasoline engine) into potential energy by forcing air into a smaller volume and thus increasing its pressure. The energy in the compressed air can be stored while the air remains pressurized. The energy can be used for a variety of applications, usually by utilizing the kinetic energy of the air as it is depressurized.
According to the pressure delivered
- Low-pressure air compressors (LPACs), which have a discharge pressure of 150 psi or less
- Medium-pressure compressors, which have a discharge pressure of 151 psi to 1,000 psi
- High-pressure air compressors (HPACs), which have a discharge pressure above 1,000 psi
According to the design and principle of operation
Positive-displacement compressors work by forcing air into a chamber whose volume is decreased to compress the air. Common types of positive displacement compressors are:-
- Piston-type air compressors use this principle by pumping air into an air chamber through the use of the constant motion of pistons. They use one-way valves to guide air into a cylinder chamber, where the air is compressed.
- Rotary screw compressors use positive-displacement compression by matching two helical screws that, when turned, guide air into a chamber, whose volume is decreased as the screws turn.
- Vane compressors use a slotted rotor with varied blade placement to guide air into a chamber and compress the volume. A type of compressor that delivers a fixed volume of air at high pressures.
Negative-displacement air compressors include centrifugal compressors. These use centrifugal force generated by a spinning impeller to accelerate and then decelerate captured air, which pressurizes it.
Due to adiabatic heating, air compressors require some method of disposing of waste heat. Generally this is some form of air- or water-cooling, although some (particularly rotary type) compressors may be cooled by oil (that is then in turn air- or water-cooled) and the atmospheric changes also considered during cooling of compressors.
- To supply high-pressure clean air to fill gas cylinders
- To supply moderate-pressure clean air to a submerged surface supplied diver
- To supply moderate-pressure clean air for driving some office and school building pneumatic HVAC control system valves
- To supply a large amount of moderate-pressure air to power pneumatic tools, such as jackhammers
- For filling tires
- To produce large volumes of moderate-pressure air for large-scale industrial processes (such as oxidation for petroleum coking or cement plant bag house purge systems).
Most air compressors either are reciprocating piston type, rotary vane or rotary screw. Centrifugal compressors are common in very large applications. There are two main types of air compressor's pumps: oil-lubed and oil-less. The oil-less system has more technical development, but is more expensive, louder and lasts for less time than oil-lubed pumps. The oil-less system also delivers air of better quality.
- Klenck, Thomas. "How it Works: Air Compressor". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 30 July 2010.
- Compressor types: rotary screw, reciprocating, and vane compressors