A booster pump is a machine which will increase the pressure of a fluid, generally a liquid. It is similar to a gas compressor, but generally a simpler mechanism which often has only a single stage of compression, and is used to increase pressure of an already pressurised gas. Two-stage boosters are also made. Boosters may be used for increasing gas pressure, transferring high pressure gas, charging gas cylinders and scavenging.
Construction and function
Booster pumps are usually piston or plunger type compressors. A single-acting, single-stage booster is the simplest configuration, and comprises a cylinder, designed to withstand the operating pressures, with a piston which is driven back and forth inside the cylinder. The cylinder head is fitted with supply and discharge ports, to which the supply and discharge hoses or pipes are connected, with a non-return valve on each, constraining flow in one direction from supply to discharge. When the booster is inactive, and the piston is stationary, gas will flow from the inlet hose, through the inlet valve into the space between the cylinder head and the piston. If the pressure in the outlet hose is lower, it will then flow out and to whatever the outlet hose is connected to. This flow will stop when the pressure is equalised, taking valve opening pressures into account.
Once the flow has stopped, the booster is started, and as the piston withdraws along the cylinder, increasing the volume between the cylinder head and the piston crown, the pressure in the cylinder will drop, and gas will flow in from the inlet port. On the return cycle, the piston moves toward the cylinder head, decreasing the volume of the space and compressing the gas until the pressure is sufficient to overcome the pressure in the outlet line and the opening pressure of the outlet valve. At that point, the gas will flow out of the cylinder via the outlet valve and port.
There will always be some compressed gas remaining in the cylinder and cylinder head spaces at the top of the stroke. The gas in this "dead space" will expand during the next induction stroke, and only after it has dropped below the supply gas pressure, more supply gas will flow into the cylinder. The ratio of the volume of the cylinder space with the piston fully withdrawn, to the dead space, is the "compression ratio" of the booster, also termed "boost ratio" in this context. Efficiency of the booster is related to the compression ratio, and gas will only be transferred while the pressure ratio between supply and discharge gas is less than the boost ratio, and delivery rate will drop as the inlet to delivery pressure ratio increases.
Delivery rate starts at very close to swept volume when there is no pressure difference, and drops steadily until there is no effective transfer when the pressure ratio reaches the maximum boost ratio.
Compression of gas will cause a rise in temperature. The heat is mostly carried out by the compressed gas, but the booster components will also be heated by contact with the hot gas. Some boosters are cooled by water jackets or external fins to increase convectional cooling by the ambient air, but smaller models may have no special cooling facilities at all. Cooling arrangements will improve efficiency, but will cost more to manufacture.
Boosters to be used with oxygen must be made from oxygen-compatible materials, and use oxygen-compatible lubricants to avoid fire.
Boosters may be driven by an electric motor, hydraulics, low or high pressure air or manually by a lever system. Those powered by compressed air are usually linear actuated systems, where a pneumatic cylinder directly drives the compression piston, often in a common housing, separated by a seal. A high pressure pneumatic drive arrangement may use the same pressure as the output pressure to drive the piston, and a low pressure drive will use a larger diameter piston to multiply the applied force.
Boosters are manufactured by Haskel, Draeger and others. Rugged and unsophisticated models (KN-3 and KN-4) were manufactured for the Soviet Armed Forces and surplus examples are now used by technical divers as they are relatively inexpensive and are supplied with a comprehensive spares and tool kit.
- Improvised and Low Cost HP Gas Boosters, Airspeed Press, Warner, NH, 2002.