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Process-gas screw compressors

(dry type) compared with

reciprocating-, oil flooded screw-
and centrifugal compressors
Process-gas screw compressors (dry type) compared with reciprocating-,
oil flooded screw- and centrifugal compressors
Dipl.-Ing. Klaus Lelgemann

1. Functional principle of a
process gas screw compressor
Process gas screw compressors are
twin-shafted rotating displacement
machines. From the point of view of
their operating characteristics, they
are comparable with reciprocating
compressors. (Fig. 1)

2. Comparison with reciprocat-

ing (piston type) compressors
The characteristic of the screw com-
pressor confirms that its rotors with
their innovative and sophisticated
Figure 1: PV-diagram of a screw compressor with an inbuilt ratio of 3
profile comprising lobes (teeth) and
flutes, perform similar positive
displacement compression strokes
as those encountered in the recipro-
cating compressor.

In the meshing profile of the rotor

pair, as the male rotor lobe exits
from a flute in the female rotor at the
intake side, a chamber is formed
into which the gas flows. As rotation
continues, the filled flute leaves the
intake port and migrates to the
discharge end.

At this, the opposite side of the rotor

pair, the male rotor lobe enters the Figure 2: Mode of operation
flute of the female rotor, so reducing
the size of the previously formed
chamber in which the gas is located. size of this aperture determines the plant components installed in the
(Fig. 2) length of time during which the gas vicinity of the compressor.
remains in the flute, and the pres-
The gas is thus continuously com- sure at which the gas is discharged. This mechanically neutral operating
pressed. Nevertheless, the compression prin- action means that the foundation
ciple described is based on a purely is simple and ideal also for critical
Before the male rotor lobe completely rotational action. There are no os- installations on vessels or oil plat-
fills the flute of the female rotor, thus cillating masses which have to be forms. Moreover, the screw com-
eliminating the previously formed balanced or compensated for by the pressor does not give rise to any
chamber, a port is reached through foundation, and which can excite low-frequency gas pulsations. These
which the gas is discharged. The vibrations and oscillations in the have to be modified at great expense

Compressor Type Availability Reliability IMR&O Forced DT MTBF that the availability of such machines
% % hr/year hr/year year falls well short of that of a process
Recip., lubricated 97.3 97.8 237.2 189.2 0.5 gas screw compressor.
Recip., conv. non lube 91.3 92.3 766.1 670.1 0.3
The machine elements in a recipro-
Recip., labyrinth piston 97.6 98.3 207.2 147.2 2.0
cating compressor which are exposed
Screw, oil free 99.0 99.7 90.0 30.0 5.0
to the most danger are, however,
Notes: the inlet and outlet valves, which
IMR&O: Inspection, Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul, MTBF: Mean Time Between
open and close with each compres-
Failure, DT: Down Time
sion stroke. It is these which actually
determine the machine availability
by pulsation dampers to produce a the process gas screw compressor and reliability. There have been innu-
smooth gas flow so that the down- is provided exclusively in the form merable investigations, reports and
stream systems is not adversely of hydrodynamic plain bearings for dissertations regarding this subject.
affected. both the radial (journal) and axial In processes, two reciprocating
(thrust) directions, and these are compressors have to be provided
In fact, the screw compressor does generally regarded as technically in many cases to ensure adequate
indeed produce gas pulsations, but wear-free. redundancy because of the asso-
these have such a high frequency ciated problems.
that they are only acoustically per- A reciprocating compressor has a
ceptible, i.e. they are manifested crankshaft with a connection rod, See the availability and reliability
solely as noise. The gas flow is uni- a crosshead with guideway, plus a rating of process gas screw com-
form. The noise must be attenuated piston rod moving back and forth, pressors compared to reciprocating
by means of silencers. not to mention the pistons them- compressors.
selves with their piston rings. These
The screw compressor is fitted with mechanical components are, in The above tabulation shows the
2 rotors. These rotor pair are the some cases, exposed to mixed average values, based on a statistic
only moving parts in the machine. friction, so it is hardly surprising presented in Hydrocarbon
The bearing system in the case of Processing, January 1999.

Figure 3: Rotor pair with

synchronizing gear

Figure 4: Oil flooded
Screw Compressor

3. Comparison of the process It is worth mentioning that the male

gas screw compressor with rotor requires more than 90% of the
the oil flooded screw compressor compressor power input, with less
There are two types of screw com- than 10% of the energy being trans-
pressor offering the same compres- mitted via the synchronizing gear
sion principle and the smoothness to the female rotor.
of operation, but which are never-
theless quite different. In the case of oil flooded screw
compressors, there is no synchro-
Outside the compression chamber, nizing gear unit. The male rotor
the process gas screw compressor drives the female rotor via the profile
has a synchronizing gear. This lobes, which simultaneously perform
means that there is a pair of toothed the gas suction and compression
wheels which are mounted on the operations. Needless to say, this
male and female rotor and which mechanism cannot function without
synchronize the rotation of these lubrication. (Fig. 4)
two components, so that they The same lubricant must be injected
remain properly in mesh. (Fig. 3) into the compression chamber
The profiles of the rotors intermesh which is also used for lubricating the
to produce the suction and com- bearings, because there are no semi-
pression stroking without any hermetic seals between the com-
mechanical contact. The compres- pression space and the bearings.
sion chamber is not lubricated
and the gas remains completely

Compressor Type Availability Reliability IMR&O Forced DT MTBF

% % hr/year hr/year year

Screw, oil flooded 97.7 98.8 199.9 99.9 1.5

Screw, oil free 99.0 99.7 90.0 30.0 5.0

IMR&O: Inspection, Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul, MTBF: Mean Time Between
Failure, DT: Down Time

The oil flooded screw compressor This is not possible with a process ges of this compressor are so great
have the following advantages: gas screw compressor as there is that it is virtually the only compres-
no lubricant to provide the cooling sion system used for such applica-
A. Owing to its high viscosity, effect. The process gas screw com- tions.
the lubricant is able to seal off the pressor must, in such cases, be of The experience gained with this
clearances between the rotors in the two-stage design and be provided design led companies to develop
compression space. This means that with additional intercooling. their refrigeration compressors also
oil flooded screw compressors are with lubricant injection. These com-
able to offer a better volumetric C. The injected lubricant muffles the pressors have also conquered their
efficiency than that of an equivalent compression noise. Owing to the respective market and nowadays
process gas screw compressor in partial sealing of the rotary clearances they are virtually the only compres-
which no liquids are injected. This is in the compression space, the gas is sors found in small and medium size
particularly so at low circumferential unable to flow back with the sonic refrigeration units.
velocities. In the case of the process figure from the flute with the higher The associated refrigeration capacity
gas screw compressor, a portion of pressure to the flute with the lower is, however, limited by the maximum
the gas escapes unhindered at its pressure. This means that the gas possible flow capacity of these com-
sonic figure through the rotary clea- flows back more slowly. Consequently, pressors.
rances in the compression space the oil flooded compressor is quieter
from those flutes with the higher overall. E. The fact is, that these compressor
pressure into those flutes in which Depending on the design of the types are manufactured in large
the prevailing pressure is lower. compressor installation, the respec- numbers and are thus less expensive.
The portion of the gas which flows tive sound pressure levels of com-
in the reverse direction has to be pressors with no sound insulation The oil flooded screw compressor
compensated for by raising the are likely to be in the region of have the following disadvantages:
speed of the process gas screw approx. 103 dB (A) at 1 m for the
compressor, and this costs addi- process gas screw compressor, F. The lubricant contaminates the
tional power. compared with approx. 93 dB (A) for gas being compressed, something
the oil flooded compressor. which cannot be permitted in many
B. The injected lubricant cools If, however, a maximum of 85 dB (A) processes.
the gas and the compressor. sound pressure level is allowed for
Compression is performed under manned compressors, both com- G. The lubricant must be recovered
polytropic conditions with the tem- pressor systems must be encapsu- by means of sophisticated separat-
perature of compression depending lated in acoustic enclosures. ing and filtration systems, in order
on the isentropic exponent and the to ensure that the oil tank does not
pressure ratio. D. The oil flooded compressor was need constant replenishment.
The oil flooded screw compressor originally developed as an air com-
can, for example, compress air in a pressor for diesel-engine-operated
single stage with an isentropic expo- portable compressors. In this sector,
nent of 1.4, from atmospheric pres- the oil flooded screw compressor
sure to e.g. 10 or 12 bar. dominates the market. The advanta-

H. The lubricant may be deteriorated J. Dusts in the gas flow are absorb- The lubricant used has to be care-
by the process gas itself or by gas ed by the lubricant so that the oil fully disposed off, if the oil flooded
constituents located within it. The filter currently in operation is quickly screw compressor has been
lubricant is used in a extremely manner: clogged; the filtration system then employed to compress gases which
1. When the lubricant is injected into has to be switched over to the contain constituents hazardous to
the compression space to the rotors stand-by oil filter. If the switch over health!
which are moving with up to 50 m/s intervals are very short, the custo- The drained lubricant must then be
tip speed, a part of the lubricant is mer cannot except this service. The declared and treated as toxic waste,
distributed into million of particles dust therefore has to be efficiently thus rendering its disposal extremely
(droplets and aerosols) which forms removed from the gas stream by costly.
a large surface and in the same time filters at the suction end.
happens a close contact between M. A lubricant refill, during service,
the gas and the lubricant. K. Owing to its high viscosity, the is only possible with a pressure
2. The lubricant is shock-heated lubricant tends to become adhered pump as the oil tank is exposed to
from an injection temperature of to the flanks of the rotors. The the discharge pressure of the gas.
about 50 C to the discharge tem- circumferential speed therefore has
perature of about 90 C in some to be limited to approx. 50 m/s. If Rsum:
milliseconds, because by the theore- operations were faster, having to The oil flooded screw compressor
tically existing temperature of may overcome this adhesion effect would is an ideal solution for clean gases
be 300 C in a polytropic compres- require more and more power input, and in processes in which the gas
sion (without cooling), this tempera- so reducing the efficiency of the contamination by the lubricant is
ture rise will heat up the lubricant. compressor. The compressor stage acceptable. In the case of all other
3. To keep the compressor cool, a therefore has to be larger than gases, compromises in relation to
large lubricant quantity is necessary would otherwise be the case with a service interval, availability, reliability,
to inject. The reservoir is situated in process gas screw compressor. In maintenance costs and repairs have
the lower part of the oil separator the case of the process gas screw to be made.
and therefore the lubricant quantity compressor, the circumferential
in the reservoir is restricted. That speed is determined solely by the The problem is predicting whether
means, short retention time are used sonic figure of the gas concerned. functional integrity can be guaran-
and not the 8 minutes which are teed in relation to specific gas mixtur-
determined in the API 619 specifi- L. The oil tank can only be emptied es, because lubricant manufacturers
cation. following a lengthy period of degas- are rarely in a position to test in their
If the lubricant is deteriorated the sing under atmospheric pressure. All laboratories the particular gas mix-
compressor integrity is endangered! the gases or gas constituents which ture of a specific customer.
have an affinity with the lubricant Consequently, the question as to
I. Liquids in the gas stream are are dissolved in the lubricant. When whether the oil flooded compressor
absorbed by the lubricant. The depressurizing the oil to atmospheric will function properly when employed
lubricant is diluted or emulsified pressure, the lubricant tends to foam for this or that gas mixture is very
(depending on the liquid), and again as a consequence. The escaping difficult to answer.
the compressor is likely to be en- gas may be combustible and thus
dangered! explosive.
When draining off the lubricant,
therefore, the utmost care must be

Not any supplier of the lubricant will
perform a guarantee for the suitability!
Conventional mineral oil can normally
not be used in oil flooded screw
compressors for gas service.
Currently polyalphaolefin and lubri-
cants on diester, polyester and
glycol basis are required.

This lubricants are expensive and

sometimes not available in some
countries. Also it is necessary to
clarify the disposal of the used lubri-
cant. The process gas screw com- Figure 5: Performance curves centrifugal compressor compared to screw
pressor is lubricated with normal
turbine oil. Also, it is only possible
to purchase the compressor stage
models which are commercially 4. Comparison of the In the case of the centrifugal com-
available on the market. Often com- process gas screw compressor pressor the discharge pressure and
promises in regard to the materials, with the centrifugal compressor gas molecular weight play an impor-
bearings, sealing and on a lack of As already indicated, the screw tant role. If the discharge pressure in
comprehensive test documentation compressor is a displacement a centrifugal compressor is higher
has to be made. machine; the centrifugal compressor than the pressure for which the com-
on the other hand, is a dynamic pressor is designed, the centrifugal
Consequently, the oil flooded screw machine. (Fig. 5) compressor surges. If the molecular
compressor therefore is often not weight falls below the value for
accepted by process operators in Here we can see the characteristic which the compressor is designed,
the oil field, chemical-, refinery- or of a centrifugal compressor com- the centrifugal compressor again
petro-chemical sector. With these pared with a screw compressor. surges. The occurrence of surging
customers, it is primarily the availa- The screw compressor has a rigid is, however, reliably prevented by
bility rating which counts rather performance characteristic meaning special fast-response controls an
than the initial investment outlay. that neither the discharge pressure important safeguard as the occur-
See the availability and reliability nor the molecular weight of the gas rence of surging is highly damaging
rating of process gas screw com- have a great effect to the volume for the centrifugal compressor.
pressors compared to oil flooded flow.
screw compressors.
The tabulation shows the average
values, based on a statistic presented
in Hydrocarbon Processing, January

Compressor Type Availability Reliability IMR&O Forced DT MTBF

% % hr/year hr/year year

Centrifugal, clean service 99.7 99.8 24.8 18.8 8.0

Centrifugal, fouling service 99.0 99.5 90.6 40.6 3.7

Screw, oil free 99.0 99.7 90.0 30.0 5.0

IMR&O: Inspection, Maintenance, Repair & Overhaul, MTBF: Mean Time Between
Failure, DT: Down Time

Screw compressors cannot surge The centrifugal compressor generally If a big quantity of liquid enters into
because they are displacement runs at a tip speed which is three the process gas screw compressor
machines. times than that of a process gas in one portion, it will of course cause
screw compressor. This explains a liquid hammer.
Due to this different compression why the process gas screw com- Due to the right material selection
principles the process gas screw pressor is not as sensitive to the for the process gas screw com-
compressor needs less stages in presence of dust and liquid droplets pressor erosion will not occur.
case of light gases. The screw com- in the gas as the centrifugal com-
pressor can often produce the pressor. This is complete different for a cen-
necessary pressure with just one trifugal compressor. The liquid drop-
compression stage, while the centri- In principle, dust entrained in the lets therefore has to be efficiently
fugal compressor requires several gas causes abrasion also in a screw removed from the gas stream by a
impellers (stages). compressor. But here the progress separator at the suction.
of wear with 1/3 of tip speed takes See the availability and reliability
The process gas screw compressor approx. 9 times longer as with a rating of process gas screw com-
thus constitutes a more cost-effi- centrifugal compressor. pressors compared to centrifugal
cient solution than the centrifugal compressor, where is nearly no
compressor in the case of light For liquid droplets entrained in the difference.
gases. gas there is nearly no limitation for
the process gas screw compressor. The above tabulation shows the
In addition, the process gas screw The quantity is allowed up to 0,5 average values, based on a
compressor is also suitable for percent of the volume of the gas statistic presented in Hydrocarbon
gases in which the molecular weight under inlet conditions. It is self-evi- Processing, January 1999.
constantly changes. The centrifugal dent that the liquid has to be distri-
compressor gives rise to consider- buted into droplets.
able problems in relation to these
gases. This is very important in flare
gas service, where the molecular
weights changes very often.
There is a further advantage.

5. Summary of the special The compressor can compress
features of process gas screw gases with varying inlet pressures
compressors and discharge pressures without
Process-gas screw compressors can surging. All compressor stages are
be employed for all normal operating available conform to NACE MR 0175
conditions where a compressor offe- alloy steels to handle gases with a
ring high availability, reliability and high content of H2S.
tailored performance is required. Compressor stages can be supplied
In addition, these compressors are for recompresssion of boil-off gas
particularly suitable for applications even at LNG for -160C inlet tem-
where difficult conditions occur and perature.
other compressor systems are less
reliable or impractical. Compressor stages as a module
system are available in casing exe- Figure 6
This predestinates the process cutions with nominal pressure 16 bar
gas screw compressor special for (230 psi) in a flow range from 3,500
unmanned service in oil field service. - 90,000 m3/h actual inlet volume
As you remember, the compressor (2,000 - 53,000 acfm) and with a
has no wear parts and the 24,000 casing execution nominal pressure
operating hours required in API 619 50 bar (725psi) discharge pressure,
between two major sevice activities in a flow range from 150 - 19,000 m3/h
can be achieved without any pro- actual inlet volume (90 - 11,000 acfm).
blems. For details in regard to process-gas
screw compressors please send
The mechanically neutral operation your inquiry to Fax No.:
action means that the foundation is 0049/208/692-9787.
simple and forms no problem in oil
fields, on platforms or vessels.
Figure 7
The comressor can handle, due to the
positive displacement characteristic,
gases with changing molecular
weights like flare gas without sur-
ging. The compressor can handle,
due to low tip speed liquid droplets
entrained in the gas stream like
associated gas in gas processsing
or tank vapor applications.

Figure 8 Figure 9

6. Main applications of process In chemical plants: 7. Examples of application and

gas screw compressors Acetylene, Ammonia, Carbon mono- design
Oilfield (onshore, off-shore and on xide, Carbon dioxide, Lime kiln gas, Flare-gas compressors with acces-
FPSOs): calcination gas, Chlorine (dry), HCI sible noise enclosure.
Gas processing (last stage up- (dry), Frigene, Hydrogen, Hydrogen- Two two-stage process-gas screw
stream of the flare) (Gas gathering rich gas, Nitric acid gas (dry), compressors are mounted on a single
of associated gas) Phosgene (TDI, MDI process) Vinyl table-top foundation. Each unit com-
Refineries: chloride presses 11,000 m3/h of flare gas
Air compressors to API 619 Power plant: from 1.01 bar to 7.0 bar. (Fig. 6)
standard Gas turbine feeding Process gas screw compressor
Boil-off gas from liquefied gas Mining/Coking plant: completely assembled at the manu-
tanks (down to -160C) Pit gas facturers works as a packaged unit
Delayed coker gas Coke oven gas for installation directly at a well-head
Fuel gas Steel works: (gas gathering) without needing a
Flare gas Blast furnace top gas, converter foundation. It compresses 3,950 m3/h
Crude gas gas, reduction gas, cooling gas of associated gas from 1.03 bar to
Recycle gas Brewing, Alcohol distillation: 3.44 bar. (Fig. 7)
Flue gas Wort boiling, Steam compression, Process gas screw compressor
Flush gas vacuum distillation, concentration completely assembled at the manu-
Offgas facturers works as a single-lift
Tail gas package for direct mounting on the
Strip gas deck of an offshore oil production
Vent gas platform. The machine compresses
Wet gas 5,650 m3/h of associated gas from
In Petrochemical installations: 1.37 bar to 6.85 bar. (Fig. 8)
Air compressors to API 619 Tank vapor compressor used in a
standard desert area. Process gas screw
Butadiene extraction, Caprolactam compressor with speed regulating
plant, Hydrogen-rich gas (catalytic motor driver in a degassing station.
reforming, LAB cycle gas, MBE 3,200 - 7,000 m3/h of tank vapor
Process), Olefin facilities, Styrene gas is compressed from 1,018 bar
off gas, VCM gas. to 2,1 bar. (Fig. 9)
PSA, charge and offgas compressors

Figure 10 Figure 11

Process-gas screw compressor

with noise enclosure in a refinery.
Semi packaged unit compresses
2,200 m3/h recycle gas from 16 bar
to 22 bar. (Fig. 10)

Process-gas screw compressor in

foundation block design with separate
oil unit.
Flare gas in an amount of 11,500 m3/h
is compressed from 1,07 bar a to
4,5 bar a. (Fig. 11)

Figure 12 Process-gas screw compressor

completely assembled at manufac-
turers works as a packaged unit.
Single lifting unit during string test.
It compresses 20,000 m3/h associat-
ed gas from 1,0 bar a to 4,0 bar a.
(Fig. 12)

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