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Could an air compressor be used to compress steam? What would be practical problems if any?

Say I have saturated steam at 1 barg and I need to compress it to 2 barg. In theory could I just pipe to the inlet of a conventional air compressor (reciprocating type).

Sounds dicey to me but when someone came up with this idea during brainstorming for a DIY project I couldn't come up with cogent reasons why this would be a bad idea.

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  • $\begingroup$ Steam is a gas. Maybe the question is: what is the input pressureof your steam, and what output pressure and temperature do you want? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ Input is saturated steam at 1barg and the output needs to be at 2 barg. Temprature can be whatever it will end up being at the end of an isotropic compression. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 15:52

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You are describing Vapor-compression Evaporation. According to wikipedia, since any real compression will also heat the gas "The compression work will deliver the steam superheated if compared to the theoretical pressure/temperature equilibrium." IMO this should be verified with the actual figures from your process design etc., you don't want liquid water in a compressor.

This document by GEA gives an overview over the process and the compressors types usually used. Not that this helpful selection diagram is marked in degree temp. diff, not pressure, since this is what you ulimately want:

enter image description here

Most likely you will want a rotary fan.

So, to sum it up, yes, you can pressurize vapor mechanically and this is an established process.

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  • $\begingroup$ This document (only skimmed) seems to go into more depth on compressor selection: dwa.nl/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Gea-Wiegand-MVR.pdf $\endgroup$
    – mart
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 11:12
  • $\begingroup$ also, doing a quick chek it appears even an isentropic compression heats the gas up more than the dew line rises with the pressure, so condensation inside the compressor should not happen. $\endgroup$
    – mart
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 14:34
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Practically speaking, it would be very inefficient. Just thinking about its application, the pressure would not increase since the steam will just turn into water in a liquid state.

Now I have found this link that might be helpful, depending on your specific application, and they mention that the compressor is:

"Capable of recovering steam even at atmospheric pressure.**Requires the use of a COS or CV-COS control valve."

They also mentioned that the different application areas include

  • Removing vapor clouds above tanks of boiling water.
  • Pressurizing and reutilizing flash steam from tanks.
  • Pressurizing and reutilizing excess steam used in power generation.
  • Pressurizing and reutilizing low pressure steam generated after use in processes.

I'm assuming the third application is the one suiting the description and question you asked.

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  • $\begingroup$ The device in the link is an eductor - it requires a small flow of high pressure steam to induce a flow of low pressure steam, producing a combined flow at a pressure somewhere in between (though a lot closer to the lower pressure). If the OP had the higher pressure steam to power this device, he wouldn't need it. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ The first paragraph is wrong or misleading, any real compression process raises the temperature. $\endgroup$
    – mart
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 14:36
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Holcroft "Condensing by Compression" was a development on the British railways to increase efficiency by pushing the expended steam back into the boiler. It is the definitive study.

http://www.douglas-self.com/MUSEUM/LOCOLOCO/holcroft/holcroft.htm

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't check the document but might it be that this was also motivated by the desire to reuse the water for non-stop long-distance journeys to avoid water top-up stops. There were various other schemes using scoops in long troughs between the rails on level sections of track. A scoop was lowered from the locomotive and the water effectively rammed into the tender. $\endgroup$
    – Transistor
    Commented Apr 11, 2021 at 9:06

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