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Energy efficiency and industrial compressors

10 November 2014

In the September/October issue of IP&E Greg Bordiak, technical officer at the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) detailed some of the work being undertaken by Pneurop to improve compressed air efficiency at European level. He continues the theme in this issue, looking at a major directive that is impacting on the activities of compressed air equipment manufacturers in the UK

According to Gov.UK, the objective of the Ecodesign of Energy Related Products’ Directive 2009/125/EC is to 'reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other adverse environmental impacts throughout the life-cycle of a product with emphasis placed on the design and development stages of a product with a view to improving its energy efficiency'.

Compressors have been listed under the Ecodesign Directive 2009/125/EC working plan 2012-2014 as Lot 31, and the preparatory study was assigned to consultants VHK from the Netherlands for the period March 2012 to June 2014.  

During discussions at the kick-off meeting in March 2012, it was clear that the category of ‘compressors’ comprises an extensive range of products, and it was not possible to cover them all in a single study.  

Five distinct application ranges were identified, and the initial focus was agreed to be centered on ‘standard air compressors’, because this range is served by oil-injected screws/vanes and oil-lubricated pistons, which are the workhorses of the industry.  

With estimated annual sales in excess of 100,000 units, the best energy-saving potential was expected for this product range. It was therefore assumed that the other application ranges would be investigated in a further study, after the ‘standard air’ study had been completed.

Lot 31 study findings

The statistical approach revealed a substantial spreading in the isentropic efficiency of standard air compressors of about 20 to 30 percentage points depending on the capacity of the compressor. The study proved that, despite this large spread, the estimated energy savings are moderate.

The way forward

At the Ecodesign Horizontal Consultation Forum on 5th May 2014, the European Commission presented two policy options: 

•  To postpone the Ecodesign implementing measure for ‘standard air’ compressors and, after further analysis of ‘low pressure” and ‘oil-free air’ compressors, propose a single implementing measure for all three application ranges; or

•  To propose an implementing measure for ‘standard air’ compressors while in parallel, continue the analysis for ‘low pressure’ and ‘oil-free air’ by introducing information requirements and/or by mentioning these specifically as a matter for future revision.  

Pneurop position

With regard to the options proposed by the European Commission, both could be acceptable. However, Pneurop insists that adequate time is allowed to conduct in-depth studies for the ‘low pressure’ and ‘oil-free air’ application ranges, so that the study conclusions will be of the same quality as for ‘standard air.’


Pneurop also wants to highlight that putting a regulation in place for ‘standard air’ without a perspective on significant energy savings will entail substantial costs – not only for manufacturers but for member states and the Commission.

Therefore Pneurop emphasises that ‘business as usual’ is a valid and already ambitious scenario for ‘standard air’ because it will actually yield energy savings.  This is because manufacturers will continue to improve their products from worst available technology (WAT) to best available technology (BAT) at compressed air ‘system’ level, thereby improving energy savings as well as their competitiveness on a global scale.  

If a regulation is introduced on ‘standard air’ today and if a stringent scenario is selected, the expected benefits in terms of energy savings will be far from what could be expected. Instead of focusing on effective measures to improve complete compressed air systems, manufacturers will be compelled to devote their engineering resources primarily to susbstitue the products banned from the EU. This will enable little or no progress towards achieving the BAT level and will inevitably impair their longer-term global competitiveness.

The reality

The European Commission Consultation Forum held on 23rd October 2014 for Lot 31 'Standard air compressors', which was attended by member states, industry (Pneurop) and other interested parties, reviewed the draft Regulation that the European Commission had drawn up as a result of the recommendations and options in the study done by VHK. 

There was confirmation that compressor manufacturers, like electric motor manufacturers before them, will be subject to an EU Regulation identifying energy efficiency requirements for 'standard air compressors'. The EU wants the Regulation to be published by the end of 2015 and the first of the two stages to be effective from January 2018, with the second stage coming into force in January 2020. The expected result by January 2020 will be the removal of about 40% of the compressors that do not meet the required efficiency levels.