In compressed air systems, mechanical and organic losses account for 15% of compressor energy consumption. In the current research, the energy saving potential achievable through friction power reduction in sliding vane rotary compressors was investigated using experimental and modeling approaches. Tests on a new mid-size industrial compressor operating at different steady conditions (outlet pressure 9, 12.5, 14.5 bar at 1000 and 1500 RPM) assessed the machine performance through measurement of mechanical power and the reconstruction of the pressure-volume diagram. An experimental methodology was also developed to quantify the power lost by friction and its measurement uncertainty using the concept of indicated mean effective pressure. Modeling the compressor blade dynamics allowed a friction power decomposition while an analysis of the hydrodynamic lubrication at the most severe friction location, namely between blade tip and stator wall, additionally provided the oil film thickness evolution along the contact surface. The agreement between modeling and experimental data identified a value for the friction coefficient of 0.065. Design suggestions on existing machines and new design solutions were eventually outlined varying blade mass, revolution speed and compressor aspect ratio. These improved configurations predicted an efficiency increase up to 6%. The authors acknowledge Ing. Enea Mattei S.p.A. and particularly its CEO, Dr. Giulio Contaldi, for continuous research funding and support. The work has been done also under the FP7 Project “Complete Vehicle Energy-Saving CONVENIENT” funded by the European Commission.
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