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Energy Efficiency Reference Guide Compressed Air

7 Uses and Misuses of Compressed Air

Compressed air is used for a diverse set of applications in industry (See Figure 23). The cost to produce compressed air is often unknown to the users, and for this reason, it may be used in an inefficient manner.

For many applications, other sources of power may be more cost effective and energy efficient. Typically, less than 10% of the original energy used to produce compressed air is actually converted into useful work by the end use application. Think about the equipment at your facility and ask if any of the end uses can be converted to other power sources.

Figure 23 - Common Uses for Compressed Air
Agitating liquids Cooling Pressure treatment
Air brakes Dehydration Sawing
Air piston powering Fertilizing Seeding
Blending Forming Snow making
Bottling Hoisting Spraying coatings
Clamping Injection molding Sprinkler systems
Cleaning Mixing Stamping
Controls and actuators Mold press powering Tool powering
Conveying Packing Vacuum melting

a. Inappropriate Uses of Compressed Air

Inappropriate uses of compressed air are defined as applications that could be powered more efficiently or economically using an energy source other than compressed air.

Although one of the most expensive forms of plant energy, compressed air is easily accessible, and simple to adapt for use. Consequently it is commonly used for applications where other energy technologies and energy inputs would be more efficient and economical.

Examples of common potentially inappropriate uses of compressed air are shown in Figure 24.

Figure 24 - Potentially Inappropriate Compressed Air Uses
Inappropriate Compressed Air Use Description and Examples Potential Solutions
Abandoned Equipment
  • Compressed air continues to be supplied to equipment that remains in place yet does not operate
  • Install shut off valves
  • Remove redundant equipment
Aspirating
  • Aspirating uses compressed air to induce the flow of another gas with compressed air such as flue gas
  • Low-pressure Blower
Atomizing
  • Atomizing uses compressed air to disperse liquid to a process as an aerosol
  • Low-pressure Blower
Dense phase transport
  • Dense phase transport is used to transport solids in a batch format
  • Low to High Pressure Blowers
Open blowing
  • Blowing using compressed air applied  with an open, unregulated tube, hose, or pipe for cooling
  • Drying
  • Clean up
  • Brushes
  • Brooms
  • Blowers
  • Electric fans
  • Mixers
  • Nozzles
Equipment or Personnel cooling
  • Personnel cooling using compressed air can be dangerous (fine particles or unsecured hoses striking personnel)
  • Fans
Unregulated Equipment
  • End use equipment operating without a regulator at full system pressure
  • Install Pressure Regulators
Vacuum generation
  • Compressed air is sometimes used in conjunction with a venturi to generate a negative pressure vacuum
  • Vacuum Pump

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