Under Pressure! Tips for Minimizing Waste from Compressed Air Systems
October 12, 2023
Compressed air is energy-intensive, since most of the energy required to make it is lost as waste heat. However, it is used in many applications for manufacturers, offering businesses a great opportunity for energy and money savings by following the best practices below.
Seal the leaks.
Even the most efficient systems will lose five to 10 percent of the air they produce to leakages. However, many systems leak several times that much.
“If you can hear a leak without an ultrasonic leak detector, it’s big enough to fix,” advises Efficiency Smart’s Eric Weber, who works with several manufacturers to minimize their energy use.
Because compressed air uses so much energy, even small leaks are generally worth fixing. You can find them using an ultrasonic leak detector, or by hiring a vendor to perform an audit.
Lower the pressure.
Reducing the pressure in your system will also reduce your energy use. That’s because the system requires less energy to run and will leak slower. The rule of thumb here is that lowering your pressure by two psi will result in one percent savings.
Of course, it’s important to fix any big leaks before reducing the pressure, to avoid surprises. You should also know the application with the highest-pressure requirements before you go and adjust the dials.
“If you have a machine where the highest pressure needed is 100 psi, you don’t need to set your system to 125,” Weber recommends. “Try setting it just a bit higher, maybe to 105 or 110, to account for any small leaks you can’t fix. Then measure the pressure you receive and adjust as needed.”
Optimize the system.
If your compressed air load varies with demand, you may want to consider upgrading to a variable-speed compressor that only runs at full capacity when needed.
If you have multiple compressors, link them together using your system controls. Controls help you avoid using multiple machines when just one will do the job. Or, if one of your compressors is fixed speed and the other is variable, you can set controls to efficiently match the demand as it increases and decreases, as fixed speed units are inefficient at part load.
For nozzle-based tools, look for the nozzles that are best suited to your application. The better the seal between the nozzle and the material, the less energy that will be wasted.
Finally, if your factory shuts down at the end of the day, turn off the machines when the last shift leaves. Otherwise, leaky machines may kick back on overnight, wasting energy while the building is empty.
Watch your room temperature.
Often, compressed air machines are found in blazing-hot mechanical rooms. Compressors require an ambient temperature between 40-100 degrees to operate properly. This means maintaining proper clearance, if there are multiple machines, and providing proper ventilation. If your machine is in an enclosed mechanical room, install a louver or damper in the outside wall, to pull in cooler outside air and keep the machine working as efficiently as possible.
You can also consider installing a heat recovery system that re-uses the waste heat from your compressed air system to heat offices or other on-site processes.
Dry the air efficiently.
Most pneumatic tools and machinery don’t like water, so air dryers are used to remove moisture from compressed air. How they dry the air depends on a number of factors. In some cases, you may save energy by opting for a cycling refrigerated dryer or opting for advanced controls on a desiccant dryer. Reach out to Efficiency Smart for more information about your specific needs.
Switch up your process.
Compressed air uses a lot of electricity. Many businesses find that they save the most by opting for another tool that performs the same task just as effectively, such as using a broom to clean a workspace. Consider whether any of your compressed air usage can be replaced by another, more efficient technology like battery-powered tools.
Questions? Reach out!
Efficiency Smart helps businesses identify and assess energy efficiency upgrades to meet a wide range of goals. We also provide rebates on qualifying upgrades.
For more information, contact your local key account manager or our customer support team at (877) 889-3777 or [email protected].