A gas compressor is a mechanical device that increases the pressure of a gas by reducing its volume. Compression of a gas naturally increases its temperature.
Compressors are closely related to pumps: both increase the pressure on a fluid and both can transport the fluid through a pipe. As gases are compressible, the compressor also reduces the volume of a gas, whereas the main result of a pump raising the pressure of a liquid is to allow the liquid to be transported elsewhere.
* Reciprocating compressors—uses pistons driven
by a crankshaft. They are both stationary and portable, can be single
or multi-staged, and can be driven by electric motors or internal combustion
engines. Small reciprocating compressors from 5 to 30 HP are commonly
seen in automotive applications and are typically for intermittent
duty. Larger reciprocating compressors up to 1000 HP are still commonly
found in large industrial applications, but their numbers are declining
as they are replaced by less costly rotary screw compressors. Discharge
pressures can range from low pressure to very high pressure (>5000
psi or 35 MPa).
* Rotary screw compressors—uses two meshed rotating positive-displacement helical screws to force the gas into a smaller space. These are usually for continuous, commercial and industrial applications and are both stationary and portable. Their application can be from 5 hp (3.7 kW) to over 500 hp (375 kW) and from low pressure to very high pressure (>1200 psi or 8.3 MPa). They are commonly seen with roadside repair crews powering airtools. This type is also used for many automobile engine superchargers because it is easily matched to the induction capacity of a piston engine.
* Centrifugal compressors—a vaned rotating disk or impeller in a shaped housing forces the gas to the rim of impeller increasing the velocity of the gas. A diffuser (divergent duct) section converts the velocity energy to pressure energy. These are used for continuous, heavy industrial uses and are usually stationary. Their application can be from 100 hp (75 kW) to thousands of horsepower. With multiple staging, they can achieve extremely high output pressures greater than 10,000 lbf/in² (69 MPa). Many large snow-making operations (like ski resorts) use this type of compressor. They are also used in internal combustion engines as superchargers and turbochargers. Centrifugal compressors are used in small gas turbine engines or as the final compression stage of medium sized gas turbines.
* Axial-flow compressor—a series of fans spinning on a shaft in a tapered tube draw in gas at one end and, with the aid of interstage stators (a series of convergent and divergent ducts), compress it and output it at the other end. Usually for very high flow applications. Almost always multi-staged. Variable geometry often used to improve handling beyond about 4:1 design pressure ratio.Most common compressor in large gas turbine engines.
* Diagonal or mixed-flow compressor —similar to a centrifugal compressor, but with a radial and axial velocity component at exit from the rotor. Diffuser is often used to turn diagonal flow to the axial direction. Lower diameter diffuser than equivalent CF compressor.
* Scroll compressor—similar to a rotary screw device, this one includes two interleaved spiral-shaped scrolls to compress a gas. Its output is more pulsed than the latter and this factor has caused its declining industrial use. Can be found in automotive use as a supercharger.
Air compressors sold to and used by the general public are often attached on top of a tank for holding the pressurized air. Oil-lubricated and oil-free compressors are available.
Since compression generates heat, the compressed air is to be cooled between stages making the compression less adiabatic and more isothermal. The inter-stage coolers cause condensation meaning water separators with drain valves are present. The compressor flywheel may drive a cooling fan.
For instance in a typical diving compressor, the air is compressed in three stages. If each stage has a compression ratio of 7 to 1, the compressor can output 343 times atmospheric pressure (7 x 7 x 7 = 343).
There are many options for the "prime mover" or motor which powers the compressor:
* gas turbines power the axial and centrifugal flow compressors that
are part of jet engines
* steam turbines or water turbines are possible for large compressors
* electric motors are cheap and quiet for static compressors. Small motors suitable for domestic electrical supplies use single phase alternating current. Larger motors can only be used where an industrial electrical three phase alternating current supply is available.
* diesel engines or petrol engines are suitable for portable compressors and support compressors used as superchargers from their own crankshaft power. They use exhaust gas energy to power turbochargers