Most industrial facilities need some form of compressed air, whether for running a simple air tool or for more complicated tasks such as the operation of pneumatic controls. A recent survey by the U.S. Department of Energy showed that for a typical industrial facility, approximately 10% of the electricity consumed is for generating compressed air. For some facilities, compressed air generation may account for 30% or more of the electricity consumed. Compressed air is an on-site generated utility. Very often, the cost of generation is not known; however, some companies use a value of 18-30 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of air. Compressed air is one of the most expensive sources of energy in a plant. The over-all efficiency of a typical compressed air system can be as low as 10%-15%. For example, to operate a 1 - horsepower (hp) air motor at 100 pounds per square inch gauge(psig), approximately 7-8 hp of electrical power is supplied to the air compressor.
Assumptions in this example include a 75-hp compressor operated two shifts a day, 5 days a week at an aggregate electric rate of $0.05/kWh over 10 years of equipment life.
Although compressed air is a necessary part of most plant operations, it is not the most efficient source of energy in a plant (see Fig. 1). To operate a 1 hp air motor requires 7-8 horsepower of electrical power into the compressor. At higher-than-typical pressures, even more power is needed. 30 scfm @ 90 psig is required by the 1 hp air motor. 6-7 bhp at the compressor shaft is required for 30 scfm.7-8 hp electrical power input to the compressor is required for 6-7 bhp at the shaft of the compression element. The overall efficiency of a typical compressed air system can be as low as 10-15%. Annual energy costs for a 1 hp air motor vs. a 1 hp electric motor in a 5-day-per-week, 2-shift operation, at $0.05/kWh is $1164 (compressed air) vs. $194 (electric). This means the compressed-air-powered motor can cost more for the same power output—significantly more if plant pressures are higher than the estimated level of 90 psi.
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