Oil-free air compressors: Ready for growth
Atlas Copco regional GM Akram Tamari comments on the market for oil-free compressors
Compressors have an important role in the oil and gas sector, and while most companies use oil lubricated compressors, there are advantages to considering oil-free compressors.
“There is no comparison between oil compressors and their oil-free counterparts,” says Engineer Akram Tamari, the regional general manager for Atlas Copco Rental Middle East, North Africa & India. “Oil-free air compressors have no oil-contaminated air at the outlet, while oil injected units have contamination in forms of droplets and vapours.”
The oil in air compressors lubricates the mechanism, seals and cools compressed air. But in sensitive applications, it means traces of oil will remain and could enter the final product.
This might not seem like a huge issue, but it can be difficult to minimise contaminated air, and in order to do so, various filters, including coalescing filters and carbon activated filters have to be used, which Tamari says in most cases fail after a relatively short period of time.
“This leads to real issues in air quality and in energy efficiency due to pressure drops during this process,” he says. Still, use of oil-free technology is fledgling, and oil-free compressors generally carry a higher price tag.
“[It] is still not implemented enough in all of the relevant applications, as most investors are looking for cheaper solutions, even if it will compromise their processes,” Tamari says. “Once companies have a better understanding of how important the quality of compressed air is, I believe that will be the moment that oil-free air compressors will start to boom.”
In a region with oil-based economies, the compressor market has plenty of room to grow, but shifting oil prices can put a damper on those plans, and all oil companies have had to adapt to lower oil prices. “The challenge is to have a business with agility and capability of adapting to the market in the best way,” Tamari says.
He also notes that oil-free air compressor units offer solutions to the region’s industry from the construction phase of a project all the way through operation and shutdown.
Although oil-free compressors are still not as widely-used as oil compressors, Tamari says the market is shifting positively. “Awareness towards safety, quality and efficiency are starting to increase, and as such, the market is shifting towards better solutions that will save more.”
Ultimately, air quality is a matter of safety. “Oil-free air equipment can be used to process air, utility air, instrumentation air or even as a back up to their own units,” Tamari says. “In all these applications, air quality is a critical parameter, in tandem with safety features and compliance with the end-user’s conditions.”
In the Middle East, Tamari notes that oil-free air technologies are typically used during shutdowns and emergencies. “These solutions help keep the region’s facilities running, and can help companies fulfil their production requirements,” he says. “In the eastern region of Saudi Arabia, for example, many gas processing and petrochemical plants use oil-free air solutions to guarantee maximum uptime, using them as a backup in case of emergencies.”