Whether you know it or not, compressed air is involved in every aspect of our lives, from the balloons at your birthday party to the air in the tires of our cars and bicycles. It was probably even used when making the phone, tablet or computer you’re viewing this on.
The main ingredient of compressed air is, as you might have already guessed, air. Air is a gas mixture, which means it consists of many gases. Primarily these are nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%). It consists of different air molecules that each have a certain amount of kinetic energy.
Compressing the air makes the molecules move more rapidly, which increases the temperature. This phenomenon is called “heat of compression”. Compressing air is literally to force it into a smaller space and as a result bringing the molecules closer to each other. The energy that gets released when doing this is equal to the energy required to force the air into the smaller space. In other words it stores the energy for future use.
Compressed air is an excellent medium for storing and transmitting energy. It’s flexible, versatile and relatively safe compared to other methods for storing energy, like batteries and steam. Batteries are bulky and have a limited charge life. Steam, on the other hand, is not cost effective nor user friendly (it gets extremely hot). When comparing compressed air with electricity however, electricity is more cost efficient. If this is true, why use compressed air?
An air compressor is a device that converts power (using an electric motor, diesel or gasoline engine, etc.) into potential energy stored in pressurized air (i.e., compressed air). By one of several methods, an air compressor forces more and more air into a storage tank, increasing the pressure. When tank pressure reaches its engineered upper limit, the air compressor shuts off. The compressed air, then, is held in the tank until called into use.
The energy contained in the compressed air can be used for a variety of applications, utilizing the kinetic energy of the air as it is released and the tank depressurizes. When tank pressure reaches its lower limit, the air compressor turns on again and re-pressurizes the tank. An air compressor must be differentiated from a pump because it works for any gas/air, while pumps work on a liquid.
Compressors can be classified according to the pressure delivered:
When you think about the examples above, you might wonder how compressed air is used in these situations. In the industry, it is used in two ways: as energy and as part of a process. These two types are referred to as Energy Air and Active Air respectively.
First of all, Energy Air is used for storing and transmitting energy in order to do mechanical work. More specifically, it is used to power pneumatic production equipment, air operated lathe chucks, pressure clean parts and to convey or cool components during production.
Active air, on the other hand, is required as an active and integral part of a certain process. In this case, the air comes in contact with the product therefore the air quality is very important. The clean, dry air quality, or CDA quality for short, can be enhanced by utilizing oil-free compressors and by treating the air using one of the many quality air tools available. This type of compressed air is used in the following industries:
Initially, you might think air compressors are only used to inflate the tires. However, it doesn’t stop there. They are used in the production of these tires, the fabric on the seats and the sanding of the metal exhaust pipes. More importantly, compressed air is at the center of the bus’ safety system. A compressor is at the heart of the air brake system and uspension, it also makes sure the airbag gets deployed in the event of a crash.
When it comes to choose the right type of compressor for your application, you should ask yourself these questions:
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