What’s a gas compressor?

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Gas compressors increase gas pressure and temperature for various applications, including natural gas transportation, refrigeration, and air brakes. There are seven common designs, including centrifugal, axial flow, and diaphragm compressors, each suited for different environments. Reciprocating compressors are being replaced by smaller, quieter, and cheaper compressors. Rotary screw compressors are popular for continuous operation, while scroll compressors are preferred for their quiet operation and high reliability. Diaphragm compressors are commonly used for hydrogen and CNG operations.

A gas compressor reduces the volume of gas by mechanically increasing the pressure around it. This process simultaneously raises the temperature of the gas. Gas compressors are used daily in a wide variety of residential, industrial and commercial operations. These include moving natural gas through pipes to homes and businesses, transporting heat in refrigeration systems, compressing intake air in gas turbines, and supplying compressed air for vehicle air brakes. Gas compressors are also used to store small volumes of purified gas, to pressurize aircraft cabins, and to safely store air on submarines.

Based on their various uses in different environments, gas compressors come in a variety of designs. Seven of the most common designs are centrifugal, diagonal or mixed flow, axial flow, reciprocating, rotating screw, spiral, and diaphragm. Other gas compressor models are available for more specialized applications.

Centrifugal gas compressors are primarily used for the continuous duty required by oil refineries, chemical plants and natural gas processing plants. They are also commonly used in ski resorts to make artificial snow. A diagonal or mixed flow gas compressor is similar to the centrifugal type, but with a smaller diameter diffuser. Axial flow designs increasingly compress the gas flow with rotating blades that resemble a fan and are most commonly found in medium to large gas turbine engines.

A gas reciprocating compressor is driven by pistons driven by a crankshaft. They are mostly used in automotive applications and are used sporadically. Once commonly used for large industrial applications, they are rapidly being replaced by smaller, quieter and cheaper compressors.

For commercial and industrial applications that require continuous operation, rotary screw gas compressors are a popular choice. Compressed air power tools used by road workers use rotary screw compressors. These superchargers are also popular for car engine superchargers as they can be easily calibrated to match the induction capability of piston engines.

Also known as a scroll pump or scroll vacuum pump, scroll compressors are commonly used to compress both liquids and gases. They use two intertwined spiral paddles. Scroll compressors are often preferred due to their quiet operation and high reliability.
Diaphragm gas compressors, also known as diaphragm compressors, are variants of the more common reciprocating compressors. Instead of using a suction element for compression, the diaphragm gas compressor uses a flexible diaphragm or diaphragm. These types of gas compressors are commonly used for operations using hydrogen and compressed natural gas (CNG).

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