The diagram shows that when a volume of air is compressed adiabatically to 21 atmospheres (294 lb. gauge pressure), it will occupy a volume a little more than one-tenth; the total increase of temperature with an initial temperature of zero is about 650 degrees; with 60 degrees initial temperature it is 800 degrees, and with 100 degrees initial it is 900 degrees. It will be observed that the zero heat curve is flatter than the others, indicating that when free air is admitted to a compressor cold, the relative increase of temperature is less than when the air is hot. This points to the importance of low initial temperature.

We have now seen that the economical production of compressed air depends upon the following conditions:

(1) A low initial temperature.

(2) Thorough cooling during compression.

It has been demonstrated by experiments made in France that the power required to compress moist air is less than that for dry air. A table showing the power required to compress moist and dry air has been prepared from the data of M. Mallard and shows that for five atmospheres the work expended in compressing one pound of dry air is 58,500 foot pounds, while that for moist air is 52,500 foot pounds. In expansion also moisture in the air adds to the economy, but in both cases the saving of power is not great enough to compensate for the many disadvantages due to the presence of water. Mr. Norman Selfe, of the Engineering Association of N.S.W., has compiled a table which shows some important theoretical conditions involved in producing compressed air.

So much for the theory of compression. We now come to the practical production of compressed air.

The first record that we have of the use of an air compressor is at Ramsgate Harbor, Kent, in the year 1788. Smeaton invented this "pump" for use in a diving apparatus. In 1851, William Cubitt, at Rochester Bridge, and a little later an engineer, Brunel, at Saltash, used compressed air for bridge work. But the first notable application of compressed air is due to Professor Colladon, of Geneva, whose plans were adopted at the Mont Cenis tunnel. M. Sommeiller developed the Colladon idea and constructed the compressed air plant illustrated in Fig. 2.

Compressed Air Production 799 6a

FIG. 2.

The Sommeiller compressor was operated as a ram, utilizing a natural head of water to force air at 80 pounds pressure into a receiver. The column of water contained in the long pipe on the side of the hill was started and stopped automatically, by valves controlled by engines. The weight and momentum of the water forced a volume of air with such shock against a discharge valve that it was opened and the air was discharged into the tank; the valve was then closed, the water checked; a portion of it was allowed to discharge and the space was filled with air, which was in turn forced into the tank. The efficiency of this compressor was about 50 per cent.

At the St. Gothard tunnel, begun in 1872, Prof. Colladon first introduced the injection of water in the form of spray into the compressor cylinder to absorb the heat of compression.

Compressed Air Production 799 6b

FIG. 3.

Fig. 3 illustrates the air cylinder of the Dubois-Francois type of compressor, which was the best in use about the year 1876. This compressor was exhibited at the Centennial Exposition and was adopted by Mr. Sutro in the construction of the Sutro tunnel. A characteristic feature seems to be to get as much water into the cylinder as possible. The water which flooded the bottom of the cylinder arose from the voluminous injection; this water was pushed into the end of the cylinder and some of it escaped with the air through the discharge valve.

An improved pattern of this compressor is shown in Fig. 4.

Compressed Air Production 799 6c

FIG. 4.

These illustrations are interesting from an historical point of view, as indicating the line of thought which early designers of air-compressing machinery followed. As the necessity for compressed air power grew, inventors turned their attention to the construction of air-compressing engines that would combine efficiency with light weight and economy of space and cost. The trade demanded compressors at inaccessible localities, and in many cases it was preferred to sacrifice isothermal results to simplicity of construction and low cost.

It is evident that an air compressor which has the steam cylinder and the air cylinder on a single straight rod will apply the power in the most direct manner, and will involve the simplest mechanics in the construction of its parts. It is evident, however, that this straight line, or direct construction, results in an engine which has the greatest power at a time when there is no work to perform. At the beginning of the stroke steam at the boiler pressure is admitted behind the piston, and, as the air piston at that time is also at the initial point in the stroke, it has only free air against it. The two pistons move simultaneously, and the resistance in the air cylinder rapidly increases as the air is compressed. To get economical results it is, of course, necessary to cut off in the steam cylinder, so that at the end of the stroke, when the steam pressure is low, as indicated by the dotted line (Fig. 5), the air pressure is high, as similarly indicated. The early direct-acting compressor used steam at full pressure throughout the stroke.

The Westinghouse pump, applied to locomotives, is built on this principle, and those who have observed it work have perhaps noticed that its speed of stroke is not uniform, but that it moves rapidly at the beginning, gradually reducing its speed, and seems to labor, until the direction of stroke is reversed. This construction is admitted to be wasteful, but in some cases, notably that of the Westinghouse pump, economy in steam consumption is sacrificed to lightness and economy of space.