Maximising air compressor efficiency involves tweaking a large number of small issues, but can also include several major characteristics of the system, including leakage and dew point, according to a newly published whitepaper.

Energy Savings in Utility Systems, published by University College Cork, discusses some of the biggest single measures to improve air compressor efficiency, with the potential to pay for themselves in cost savings within the space of the first year.

The document looks particularly at pharmaceutical plants, but also at broader industrial air compressor usage, where more than 10% of a plant’s entire electricity goes towards generating compressed air.

It notes the common causes of inefficiency in compressed air installations, including “motor losses, compression and idle losses, cooling and drying losses, pressure losses in filters, dryer and pipework, and leakage and expansion losses”.

For the biggest benefits though, it singles out first of all the issue of leakage, which can occur at joints and valves, in flexible hoses, and at thread sealants, pressure regulators and lubricator units.

This can not only lead to a direct cost due to lost pressure, but can also put air compressors under greater strain as they overwork to compensate for the lower pressure in the system – making it crucial to monitor and investigate any evidence of leakage.

Meanwhile, in systems that require dry compressed air output, configuring the dryer itself is a second important stage; the dew point must be set low enough to ensure high quality output, but high enough that energy is not being used unnecessarily to over-dry the compressed air.

This is not an isolated setting on each air compressor system, but should be monitored in parallel across all systems on a site, so that the efficient operation of one is not undermined by an inefficient dew point setting on the others.