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Compressed air is air kept under a pressure that is greater than atmospheric pressure. Compressed air is an important medium for transfer of energy in industrial processes. Compressed air is used for power tools such as air hammers, drills, wrenches and others. Compressed air is used to atomize paint, to operate air cylinders for automation, and can also be used to propel vehicles. Brakes applied by compressed air made large railway trains safer and more efficient to operate. Compressed air brakes are also found on large highway vehicles.

In Europe, 10 percent of all industrial electricity consumption is to produce compressed air—amounting to 80 terawatt hours consumption per year.[1][2]



Industrial use of piped compressed air for power transmission was developed in the mid 19th century; unlike steam, compressed air could be piped for long distances without losing pressure due to condensation. There were isolated attempts predating the use of compressed air industrially such as the suggestion by the Frenchman Dr. Papin to use compressed air as a means of transmitting power. The suggestion, made around 1700 AD, proposed the notion of conveying parcels in a tube utilizing compressed air. Unfortunately, early experiments crafted from wood and metal were not sustainable.[3]

Another early major application of compressed air was in the drilling of the Mont Cenis Tunnel in Switzerland in 1861, where a 600 kPa (87 psi) compressed air plant provided power to pneumatic drills, increasing productivity greatly over previous manual drilling methods. Compressed air drills were applied at mines in the United States in the 1870s. George Westinghouse invented air brakes for trains starting in 1869; these brakes considerably improved the safety of rail operations. [4]In the 19th century, Paris had a system of pipes installed for municipal distribution of compressed air to power machines and to operate generators for lighting. Early air compressors were steam-driven, but in certain locations a trompe could directly obtain compressed air from the force of falling water. [5]

Uses of compressed airEdit

Air compressor station in a power plant

In industry, compressed air is so widely used that it is often regarded as the fourth utility, after electricity, natural gas and water. However, compressed air is more expensive than the other three utilities when evaluated on a per unit energy delivered basis.[6]

Compressed air is used for many purposes, including:

Design of systemsEdit

Compressor rooms must be designed with ventilation systems to remove waste heat produced by the compressors. [11]

When air at atmospheric pressure is compressed, it contains much more water vapor than the high-pressure air can hold. Relative humidity is governed by the properties of water and is not affected by air pressure. Management of the excessive moisture is a requirement of a compressed air distribution system. System designers must ensure that piping maintains a slope, to prevent accumulation of moisture in low parts of the piping system. Drain valves may be installed at multiple points of a large system to allow trapped water to be blown out. Taps from piping headers may be arranged at the tops of pipes, so that moisture is not carried over into piping branches feeding equipment. [12] Piping sizes are selected to avoid excessive energy loss in the piping system due to excess velocity in straight pipes at times of peak demand, [13]or due to turbulence at pipe fittings. [14]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Leino, Raili (24 February 2009). "Paineilma hukkaa 15 hiilivoimalan tuotannon" (in Finnish). 
  2. ^ "Compressed Air System Audits and Benchmarking Results from the German Compressed Air Campaign "Druckluft effizient"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-12-24. 
  3. ^ Compressed Air Magazine: Devoted to the Useful Applications of Compressed Air. W.L. Saunders. 1896. 
  4. ^ Lance Day, Ian McNeil (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 1134650205,p. 1294
  5. ^ Peter Darling (ed.), SME Mining Engineering Handbook, Third Edition Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration (U.S.) 2011, ISBN 0873352645,p. 705
  6. ^ Yuan, C., Zhang, T., Rangarajan, A., Dornfeld, D., Ziemba, B., and Whitbeck, R. “A Decision-based Analysis of Compressed Air Usage Patterns in Automotive Manufacturing”, Journal of Manufacturing Systems, 25 (4), 2006, pp.293-300
  7. ^ "Case Study: Reducing Energy Costs - Compressed Air Systems". Compressed Air Systems. Retrieved 2017-08-23. 
  8. ^ "About Sprayable Makeup and the Equipment". Special Effect Supply. Retrieved 2017-08-23. 
  9. ^ "Applications - Working With Compressed Air - CAGI - Compressed Air And Gas Institute". Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  10. ^ "Selger frisk luft fra Preikestolen på eBay". Stavanger Aftenblad (in Norwegian). Retrieved 15 August 2016. 
  11. ^ "Some Like It Hot…Your Compressor Room Doesn’t". Compressed Air Tips from Kaeser Talks Shop. 5 May 2015. Retrieved 2017-01-12. 
  12. ^ COMPRESSOR INLET PIPING by Hank van Ormer, Air Power USA, Compressed Air Best Practices, 06/2012 Page 26, column 2, Note 12.
  13. ^ "Plant services (2005 - 2006 Collection) "Eliminate Mr. Tee"". p. 5. 
  14. ^ Merritt, Rich (May 2005). "Top 10 Targets of a Compressed Air Audit" (PDF). Plant Services magazine. p. 31. 

External linksEdit