Air-Cooled Or Water-Cooled: Which Option Makes Sense For Your Plant?

Posted on: 3 October 2016

To many people, an air compressor is just an air compressor. But if you operate a plant that relies heavily on compressed air, then you know that not all air compressors are created equal. When renting or even purchasing an industrial air compressor, one of the first decisions you'll face is the choice between an air-cooled and water-cooled air compressor.

If you plan on renting an industrial air compressor for your facility, the following can help you decide which type will work best for your plant's needs.

Consider Your Compressed Air Demands

The size and type of your air compressor rental will mostly depend on your plant's compressed air demands:

  • Air-cooled air compressors are ideal for applications that only require a small supply of compressed air or have sporadic demand for compressed air.
  • Water-cooled air compressors make more sense for applications where there's continuous demand. These circumstances often include pipeline testing, refilling compressed air breathing apparatus (CABA) systems and testing DOT pressure vessels and valves.

When it comes to choosing the best type of air compressor for your plant's needs, it's important to understand if and how your plant's compressed air demands fluctuate. For a plant with a largely static and constant compressed air demand, for example, a single large compressor will likely satisfy demand without additional expense or downtime.

For a plant whose compressed air needs fluctuate on a weekly or even daily basis, it may be wiser to rent multiple compressors with smaller horsepower ratings. In most cases, using several smaller compressors will allow you to effectively manage your plant's peak demands without wasting energy and without the additional expense of renting and maintaining a larger compressor.

Consider Your Ventilation Needs

Proper ventilation is also a critical concern when it comes to choosing between air-cooled and water-cooled air compressors. Using an air-cooled compressor becomes viable if the unit will be located outdoors or in an area with enough space for cool intake air and waste heat discharge. The larger the air-cooled compressor, however, the larger the volumes of cooling air needed to keep waste heat temperatures under control. The size of the air compressor also affects the amount of space required for waste heat discharge.

Water-cooled air compressors, on the other hand, can overcome these limitations as long as there's an adequate supply of cooling water available. Because of this, water-cooled air compressors can be placed in smaller and warmer spaces that would prove problematic for air-cooled compressors.

Consider Cooling Water Supply Issues

Another issue to consider is whether your plant can accommodate the cooling needs of a water-cooled air compressor. If your facility already has a closed loop cooling system complete with a cooling tower and water quality controls, then renting a water-cooled air compressor becomes a no-brainer.

If your facility lacks the aforementioned equipment or if you have existing water quality concerns, then it may be best to choose an air-cooled air compressor for your plant's compressed air needs. Using an air-cooled compressor can help sidestep the water supply and quality concerns that may affect your plant.

Consider the Energy Costs

When choosing between an air-cooled and water-cooled air compressor, it's also important to consider the cost of powering either type of unit. Water-cooled air compressors tend to be slightly more energy efficient than their air-cooled counterparts, but the specific performance and energy cost of each type can depend on a broad range of factors, including the cost of fuel and electricity for powering the unit.

Water consumption is also another concern that can impact your choice of air compressor. A typical plant using a single 350-horsepower single-stage rotary screw air compressor is capable of consuming 17 million gallons of water in a single year. If your plant needs a large air compressor, it's important to consider the cooling costs in addition to other costs associated with the rental.

For more information and options, talk with different rental companies, like Summit Tool Rentals Division Of Wirtz Rentals.