How companies can save money from thin air

UK businesses could save up to £110m a year by taking simple low and no cost actions to improve their compressed air systems and processes, according to new guidance published today by the Carbon Trust.

Contrary to perception, compressed air is not a free or low cost resource and accounts for around 10% of UK industry's electricity consumption - equivalent to the annual output of nearly 1.5 power stations and over 5 million tonnes of CO2 emitted to the atmosphere.

The Carbon Trust's new guide provides practical advice on choosing an air compressor, maintenance, leak prevention and using compressed air appropriately. By following these simple measures, businesses across a range of sectors can make significant cuts to their electricity spend on compressed air. In the industrial sector for example, a typical business* could save £1,500 a year by improving their compressed air processes and systems.

There is a misconception that compressed air is a free or low cost resource, when - in fact - the opposite is true. Just a single 3mm hole in a compressed air system creates a leak, which can cost a business an additional £1,000 a year in electricity costs. This is not a niche problem. Compressed air is being used across industries as diverse as aircraft manufacturing, water treatment, electronics and engineering. Our new guide provides practical and easy to implement advice that will enable businesses to cut their electricity spend on compressed air by up to a third.

- Richard Rugg, Director, Carbon Trust Programmes

The Compressed Air Overview guide is part of the Carbon Trust's Expert in Energy series. The Carbon Trust is also running a free webinar on how to significantly reduce running costs and improve the efficiency of your compressed air systems at 12pm, 30 January 2012.

Fox Wire are an independent steel wire manufacturer based in South Yorkshire that relies on an air compressor to supply pneumatic power at its factory.  However, as different projects require different amounts of air, the existing compressor wasn't appropriate for their needs as it remained on steadily, even when it wasn't in use.

With assistance from the Carbon Trust, Fox Wire replaced the old compressor with a new variable speed air compressor, allowing it to precisely control the power used. The new device uses 30% less electricity - equivalent to annual savings of over £6,500, a payback period of less than two years, and CO2 savings of 50.5 tonnes.

Top tips from the Compressed Air Overview Guide:

Test for and fix leaks. Reducing air leaks is the single most important energy saving measure for most businesses. Have an ongoing test and repair kit for leaks - remember they can reappear.  A 3mm hole could cost over £1,000/year in wasted energy.

Write a usage policy.  There are often cheaper alternatives to using compressed air for certain jobs. Educate your staff not to use it.

Switch off. Remember to turn off compressed air-consuming equipment when it is not required.

Reduce the pressure. Compressed air is often generated at the compressor's maximum pressure (often 7 bar, 100 psi). Reducing pressure by 10% can lead to 5% savings in energy. Make small, incremental reductions, checking that operations are not affected.

Check air quality and pressure dew point. If only some processes need the air to be treated to a highly-specified level, consider treating the bulk of the air to the minimum acceptable level, and then treating a smaller portion separately using a point-of-use system.

Find out more about energy saving and ways you can reduce carbon emissions.