25 June, 2024

Compressed air systems: The importance of ensuring energy performance is optimised

21 August, 2023

Cliff Warne, BCAS Executive Director explores the importance of compressed air system design to ensure energy performance is optimised, highlighting the various options available to calculate the annual running cost of an air compressor, while also advising on how best to design an energy-saving system

In April last year, the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) launched the 10% Taskforce - a call for UK businesses to take simple steps to cut their compressed air energy usage figure by 10%.

The campaign has an ambitious target to save over 411 thousand tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of taking 317 thousand cars off the road.

When BCAS launched the campaign, no one could have predicted the scale of the rise in wholesale gas and electricity prices. The campaign’s original calculations of £485.43 million being spent in wasted electricity have now risen two or even three-fold.

Generating compressed air can be very energy intensive, representing as much as 30% of a site’s total electricity bill. According to a report entitled ‘Compressed Air Systems in the European Union’ 1, when looking at the most important energy savings techniques available to compressed air users, ‘the energy savings amount to 32.9 per cent, achievable over a 15- year period.’

Therefore, since the launch, BCAS members have been speaking with customers to encourage them to act and realise savings now.

Take a 360 approach

When operators invest in new plant and equipment there can be a tendency to focus on the compressor itself, without considering the complete compressed air system and its impact on energy consumption. However, it is important to consider all areas of the air supply – not only the point of generation, bu downstream and air treatment equipment, pipework and storage.

Focusing on just one area of the system at the expense of others, will mean that other opportunities to save energy could be missed, leading to unnecessary energy usage.

Designing an energy-saving system

With air compression accounting for as much as 10% of all the electricity consumed by industry, the air compressor could be one of the largest energy-consuming systems in the plant. But it’s also important to consider that the usage and design of the system will dictate its overall energy consumption.

Poor system design, incorrectly dimensioned distribution piping and air treatment (purification) equipment can lead to avoidable pressure loss, so it’s important to factor these areas into the overall system design.

Effective maintenance also has a key part to play in overall system efficiency. For example, just one 2mm hole in the pipework, could cost over £1,249 per year in wasted energy, so implementing a regime for regularly inspecting, and remedying can help lower operating costs.

A high leak rate can also cause fluctuations in pressure, resulting in hidden costs such as slower running or even production downtime, not to mention a noisy environment for staff.

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