Using Air Compressors For More Than Just Air
Air compressor systems generate waste heat as a byproduct of their operations. In most cases, this waste heat is usually lost to the atmosphere, but it can also be harnessed to help your business save on energy costs.
Utilizing the wasted heat produced by compressed air systems is just one way many businesses are thinking outside the economic box. By taking advantage of a normally wasted byproduct, you can reduce your facility's energy consumption costs while getting more efficiency out of your compressed air systems.
Putting Wasted Energy to Good Use
As new designs and technologies come to the forefront, air compressors are becoming more efficient with their energy use. Nevertheless, as much as 94 percent of the energy consumed by the typical air compressor is converted into heat, much of which is vented into the atmosphere as a part of the compressor's cooling system.
To offset the cost of your air compressor system's energy consumption, you can recover this otherwise wasted heat and put it to good use for space heating, water heating and a variety of other critical applications:
- Manufacturing plants can use the recovered energy from their compressed air systems to power heat-driven chillers as well as to provide heat for boiler makeup water processing.
- Recovered heat can also be put to good use for critical industrial process heating tasks.
- During the winter, plants can also integrate their HVAC ducting to quickly deliver recovered heat to areas that need it most.
Removing and reusing the excess heat normally generated by air compressor activity also has the side benefit of keeping the compressors themselves at cooler operating temperatures. Using waste heat recovery to control operating temperatures helps preserve and even extend the life of compressed air equipment.
Recovering Waste Heat from Air Compressors
How businesses recover wasted heat from their air compressors depends on a broad range of variables. There are three key factors that should be taken into account when developing methods to recover wasted heat:
- Process – There are plenty of areas where recovered heat can be put to good use, but it has to be done in a way that makes fiscal sense. For this reason, it's important to identify ideal processes that get the most out of the recovered energy, which in turn maximizes annual energy savings.
- Compressor type – The type of air compressor also matters when it comes to recovering wasted heat. Both oil-lubricated and oil-free rotary screw compressors have proven effective for producing harvested heat at full load. Water-cooled compressors offer the best thermal efficiency, since discharged cooling water can be directly piped into boilers and process heating equipment.
- Location – Remotely-located air compressors require the use of ducting to direct recovered heat throughout the facility. Excess heat that can't be used for heating purposes can be vented outdoors to save on cooling costs.
Most recovery systems rely on heat exchangers to scavenge wasted heat. Some compressors even offer built-in heat exchangers specifically for waste heat recovery.
Not only must your businesses factor in their annual heat demands, but it must also calculate the potential cost-effectiveness of wasted heat recovery when compared to the costs of operating and maintaining its compressed air systems.
How Much Payback Can You Expect?
The amount of payback you'll get from waste heat recovery depends on the overall size of the air compressors, the amount of recovered heat that's put to good use and the overall cost of using said alternative energy source. Larger systems tend to provide a greater amount of payback within a shorter time frame than a similar yet smaller system.
In addition to annual energy savings, waste heat recovery from your air compressors also gives your business an opportunity to reduce its carbon footprint. When combined with other efforts to make your operations greener, your business can squeeze more efficiency out of its operations.
Energy efficiency is the name of the game for today's businesses, especially as prices for natural gas and other fuels increase with regularity. Given the increasingly upward trajectory of energy prices, it's no wonder that many are looking for unorthodox ways of saving money and staying competitive.
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