Nearly every piece of technological equipment we use in our daily lives requires cooling. 

That might be a fan in your PlayStation, coolant fluid in your car radiator, or an air-cooled compressor to manage production tasks and industrial systems at work.

The common question is – do I need a water-cooled or air cooled compressor?

Like every other aspect of an air compressor, you can choose between varying cooling processes, and water-cooled processors also come in a range of options.

If that sounds like a little too much choice, don’t worry – we run through all the ins and outs here to help you make sound decisions!


What Are the Water Cooling Options for an Air Compressor?

First up, let’s recap on those water-cooling options we mentioned above. 

Inside a compressor, you’ll find an intercooler and an after-cooler.

Depending on how much compressed air is cooled at once, the more water vapour condenses and the more energy-efficient the compressor.

Here are the three options:

  • The water-cooling process is linked to an external water supply and is an open system without any water circulation.
  • An open system uses a cooling tower, with water circulating inside.
  • The system is closed and has a radiator or external heat exchange function, around which the water circulates.

Water-cooling systems are used because they don’t strain the ventilation system in the compressor room or chamber. 

Cooling water absorbs almost 90% of the energy created by the electric motor and so becomes warm in extracting that heat.


How Does an Air Cooled Compressor Work?

The alternative is to opt for an air cooled compressor. An air cooled compressor uses a fan and a radiator rather than using water in an open or closed network.

An air cooled compressor system is often preferable to a water-cooled compressor, given the ease of installation.

It works like this:

  1. The compressor generates heat as the molecules in the compressed air become hot.
  2. The air-cooled circuit reduces that heat with a fan and removes the energy to a radiator system.
  3. Either the heat is released into the atmosphere via an air damper control. Alternatively, a thermostat is used to heat the building.

There are some significant advantages here because heat can be expensive yet is produced as a by-product of air compression.

Businesses can recover the heat lost through an air cooled compressor by harnessing that energy to warm their offices or workshops or power a preheating battery to reduce their energy bills.

Is an Air Cooled Compressor More Cost-Effective Than Water Cooled?

Costs are often a driving factor behind operational efficiencies, so let’s look at how the costs compare for each of these air compressor options!

  • Energy: air cooled compressors require more power to operate the fans.
  • Utility costs: water-cooled compressors can be expensive due to water treatment, the cost of the water supply and electricity to power the circulation functions.
  • Cost recovery: businesses can recover energy costs through either type of compressor. Liquid-cooled compressor water can preheat a boiler, and the heated air from an air cooled compressor can power a fluid exchange heater.

Air cooled compressors are larger and tend to require more space, so businesses in smaller buildings might have an easy decision if they have layout restrictions.

One alternative is to use multiple smaller compressors rather than one large installation if you need a smaller unit or don’t regularly run compression tasks.

However, if you have limited space, a water-cooled compressor may be more suitable. 

That said, you would still need to budget for the water supply required, which is usually more expensive.

On balance, it’s all about the processes or tasks you need your compressor to perform and which option is most suitable for those applications.


What Do I Need to Use an Air Cooled Compressor?

The key to remember with an air cooled compressor is that it will produce heat, so good ventilation and airflow are crucial.

Premises without enough ventilation can become extremely hot when running an air cooled compressor if that hot air isn’t being directed elsewhere, which can cause equipment to fail.

Most of the time, ductwork on both sides of the compressor ensures air can disperse throughout the space – or be used to heat the building efficiently.

Air cooled compressors shouldn’t be used anywhere in the building that produces fumes or next to another heat source such as a boiler room. 

This space requirement is offset by a more straightforward installation process and cheaper maintenance than a water-cooled alternative. 


Consider AMS Processors for your air compressor maintenance and air compressor repairs.