Compressors reduce air volume and therefore increase its pressure. This device is utilized in engines to increase the amount of air allotted to the combustion chamber— the more air that can be added, the more an engine can burn and produce more power. An air compressor specifically compresses air, as opposed to other compressors that condense different types of gases. There are many types of compressors that have been developed for various applications, and new technology and designs have increased efficiency throughout the years.
Positive displacement compressors include piston compressors, scroll compressors, and rotary screw compressors—all of which operate with a constant flow. They have a cavity which allows gas to enter the machine at atmospheric pressure. When the chamber becomes smaller, it decreases the gases volume (compresses it) and increases the pressure. Single acting piston compressors compress gas on one end of the piston while double acting compressors compress the gas on both ends of the piston. Both, the single and double acting compressors, can incorporate multiple compression stages in order to create the desired amount of pressure. They are ideal for high pressure applications. Screw compressors trap and seal the gas between rotors. The rotors mesh the gas as they rotate, push it into smaller spaces, and cause it to compress. Scroll compressors have two spiral shaped rotors that are fixed against each other. When the spirals move, the gas cavities get smaller and compress it. Positive displacement compressors produce the same flow at a given RPM.
Radial dynamic compressors are often used for powered flight and are commonly referred to as centrifugal and turbo compressors. In a dynamic compressor, impellers accelerate the gas and the diffuser slows the gas down in order to increase its pressure. Centrifugal or turbo compressors are most commonly used in chemical and petrochemical applications, power generation, industrial gases, and steel, glass, and fertilizer manufacturing plants.
In addition, there are fixed speed and variable speed driven (VSD) compressors. Fixed speed compressors run at one fixed speed and are efficient when operating on full load. When the unit stops compressing gas, fixed speed compressors become inefficient because it is still turning the motor and using power; however, it eventually stops. A VSD adjusts to the amount of gas that is being required: it only utilizes the energy that is required to produce the compressed gas. Because of this, a VSD is much more efficient.
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