28075 Improving the efficiency of oil-injected screw compressors
Begeleider(s): ir. Nicolas Delaissť en Mathieu Vervaecke

Richtingen: Master of Science in Electromechanical Engineering


Compressed air is essential to many industrial applications, to such an extent that it is considered the fourth utility after electricity, natural gas and water. Very often, screw compressors produce this compressed air, as they offer advantages over other type of positive displacement compressors in terms of compactness, high efficiency over a large operating range and a high reliability. Atlas Copco is an important manufacturer of these compressors which consist of a pair of meshing helical rotors enclosed by a casing. The meshing motion creates a volume between the rotors and the casing which decreases in size and realizes the compression. Figure 1 shows the basic action.

Figure 1: Basic construction of a screw compressor.

Imperative for the efficiency of such a machine are the gaps and corresponding leakages. These gaps are shown in Figure 2. To keep the leakage flow to a minimum the size of these gaps should be as small as possible (orders tens of microns). In addition, the speed of the rotors is very high and there is an important increase in temperature, when pressurizing the air.

Figure 2: Leakage paths in a screw compressor.

One way to cope with these issues is the introduction of oil in the air flow. The injected oil is very effective in sealing the gaps mentioned above, as these gaps are mostly long narrow clearances. This measure increases the volumetric and hence the total efficiency. Besides sealing and lubrication, it allows for virtual total temperature control, increased pressure ratio, simpler design, lower rotational speed and noise reduction.

Modelling screw compressors with the use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) promises to enrich the general knowledge and understanding of these machines. This leads to improving the efficiency with the ultimate goal of lowering the energy use from both an environmental and economical point of view. This has been successfully applied to oil-free screw compressors. However, the CFD modelling of the air and the oil film in oil-injected screw compressor is much less evident. Besides the complex geometry and narrow gaps, the presence of two phases with vastly different density and intense interaction between the two-phases make it a challenging task.

Figure 3: Mesh of female and male rotor.


The topic of this thesis is a first step towards a better understanding of the oil film in oil-injected screw compressors, by performing a simulation of a simplified machine. The aim is to have clear view on the boundaries of this oil film and its sealing function. In a later stage the cooling effect of the oil can also be investigated.

First, a two-dimensional simulation will be performed using a moving reference frame combined with a moving wall next to a gap. Afterwards, rotating gear-like rotors will be investigated with a CFD software. This may subsequently be extruded to three dimensions. A dynamic mesh will be made to deal with the moving rotors. The simulations will model two-phase flow as both the air- and oil- phase will be modelled.

In this thesis you will: