How To Size An Air Receiver Tank

Many air compressor applications can benefit from the installation of one or more air receiver tanks. An air receiver tank increases the amount of air available on demand, allowing for higher duty cycles and more powerful applications.

Air receiver tanks are sized in gallons, and can range from small 5- and 10-gallon tanks to massive tanks that hold thousands of gallons of air. The ideal size of an air receiver tank will depend on the type of air compressor and the application.

Air Receiver Tanks For Portable Air Compressors

Tanks for Reciprocating Air Compressors

Reciprocating air compressors use an air receiver tank to store air and eliminate pulsation before it can be used. Once the tank is filled with enough air, the tool or equipment can run. In many applications, using the tool will drain the tank, and operators will need to wait for it to fill back up before more air can be used. Properly sizing the air receiver tank that’s used with a reciprocating air compressor can help reduce interruptions and time wasted waiting for the tank to refill.

A simple and straightforward rule for sizing an air receiver tank for a reciprocating air compressor is to take the tool with the highest CFM requirement (at the required PSI), multiply that CFM requirement by 1.25 or 1.5, and then round up to the closest gallon size.

CFM Requirement1.25 Multiply1.5 MultiplySuggested Tank Size
20253030 gallon
40506050-60 gallon
6581.2597.590-100 gallon
80100120100-120 gallon

While these calculations may not completely eliminate the waiting time between tank fills, it will help minimize them.

Tanks for Rotary Screw Air Compressors

It can be trickier to size an air receiver tank for a rotary screw air compressor, as many applications don’t require an air tank at all. Rotary screw air compressors are designed to supply a continuous stream of air without interruption and pulsation. Therefore, if your tool requires less CFM than the air compressor produces, an air receiver tank shouldn’t be required.

However, smart operators may choose to use an air receiver tank to give their compressor a little boost for higher CFM tools. For example, if an operator routinely uses a 1” impact wrench that requires 40 CFM, but only has a 30 CFM air compressor, he may choose to add a 12-gallon air receiver tank to compensate for the difference. By the time the air receiver tank is empty, the task will be complete. Operators can sometimes save money or “make do” with a smaller system using this savvy strategy.

Air Receiver Tanks For Stationary Air Compressors

Properly sizing an air receiver tank for custom stationary applications is more complex and should typically be done by a qualified engineer. These air receiver tanks should be sized according to the volume and pressure variations in air consumption (ie: demand), air compressor size, pipe or hose size and length, and the control system strategy (ie: modulation or on-off control.)

A commonly used formula to find a receiver size is:

t = V (p1 – p2) / C pa

where

  • V = volume of the receiver tank (cu ft)
  • t = time for the receiver to go from upper to lower pressure limits (min)
  • C = free air needed (scfm)
  • pa= atmosphere pressure (14.7 psia)
  • p1 = maximum tank pressure (psia)
  • p2 = minimum tank pressure (psia)

Formula Sizing Example

Let’s look at an example, using an air compressor system with the following specifications:

  • mean air consumption = 20 cfm,
  • maximum tank pressure = 175 psi,
  • minimum tank pressure = 90 psi, and
  • time the tool will run = 1 minute

The approximate ideal volume of the receiver tank can be calculated by modifying the sizing formula to:

V = t C pa / (p1 – p2)
= (1 minute) (20 cfm) (14.7 psi) / ((175 psi) – (90 psi))
= 3.46 ft3
= 25.9 gallons

However, this formula tends to work best for large reciprocating air compressor systems.

Calculating Maximum Air Consumption

Identifying the maximum consumption of an air compressor system is critical when sizing an air receiver tank. Ideally, the air receiver tank will provide enough air to meet or exceed maximum consumption.

In the t = V (p1 – p2) / C pa formula, maximum air consumption is measured in SCFM and represented by “C”.

To calculate the maximum consumption in the system, summarize the air demand of each air tool or consumer that will be used at the same time. The summarized consumption must then be multiplied with a utilization factor for each consuming item.

Utilization Factor

The utilization factor is the way in which a tool is used and how that use affects air flow.

Let’s say you have an air tool like an impact wrench, which is rated by the manufacturer for a consumption of 20 CFM at 100 PSIG. This wrench may be turned on for only 20 seconds at a time to tighten an individual nut to its required torque value.

Initially, the tool will consume the full rated 20 CFM as it tightens the nut against almost no resistance but as the torque rises on the nut, the tool will consume less air until the final torque is achieved. The tool also won’t consume air when it isn’t being used, in between nuts.

The tool’s air consumption under load is not uniform throughout the process of torquing the nut, and the interval between applying the tool between individual nuts varies—this difference in CFM load and time interval becomes the utilization factor.

In other words, just because the tool is rated at 20 CFM, this does not mean that the tool requires the full rated CFM for each full minute nor the full minute to complete the job.

Because of this utilization factor, some air receiver tanks can meet heavy, short time demands of certain equipment at volumes that exceed the supply capabilities of the installed compressor. The minimum receiver capacity for certain applications may also be calculated, but experience and judgment are important at this point.

Pressure Band / Differential

The pressure band (differential) should also be considered when calculating the ideal air receiver tank size.

If the consumption process requires 100 psig and the compressor is set to deliver 100 psig, there is no storage and no buffer. Any increase in demand will result in a tank pressure drop below 100 psig until the compressor responds by increasing the air volume compressed to refill the tank and restore the 100 psig.

If the compressor is set to deliver 110 psig, the difference between 110 psig and 100 psig accounts for the air stored in the receiver.

If the 100 psig demand increases, the tank pressure can drop 10 psig before the minimum set pressure requirement is met. Keep in mind that the discharge piping and hoses also form part of the storage volume.

Pressure and flow controllers can be used after the receiver tank for stabilizing downstream pressure to 100 psig and flattening demand peaks.

When Does Exact Sizing Matter?

Even with the knowledge above, properly sizing an air receiver tank is a complicated and time-consuming process. Operators using straightforward tools and air compressors can default to simple CFM recommendations, and choose a receiver tank using a 1 CFM to 1.25-1.5 gallon ratio. Meanwhile, engineers developing complex and custom systems will need to determine more exact sizing requirements and need to put in the work.

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