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There is a growing need for compressed air free of entrained oil to be used in industry. In many cases, it can be supplied by oil-flooded screw compressors with multi-stage filtration systems, or by oil-free screw compressors. However, if water-injected screw compressors can be made to operate reliably, they could be more efficient and therefore cheaper to operate. Unfortunately, to date, such machines have proved to be insufficiently reliable and not cost-effective. This paper describes an investigation carried out to determine the current limitations of water injected screw compressor systems and how these could be overcome in the 15-315 kW power range and delivery pressures of 6-10 bar. Modern rotor profiles and approaches to sealing and cooling allow reasonably inexpensive air end design. The prototype of the water injected screw compressor air system was built and tested for performance and reliability. The water injected compressor system was compared with the oil-injected and oil-free compressor systems of the equivalent size including the economic analysis based on the lifecycle costs. Based on the obtained results, it was concluded that water-injected screw compressor systems could be designed to deliver clean air free of oil contamination with a better user value proposition than the oil-injected or oil-free screw compressor systems over the considered range of operations.
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