Cost Barriers Shattered with Low-Cost Pump Development

ARPA-E funds scroll development to optimize cost, opening dozens of markets previously too cost-sensitive to consider scroll technology.

Low-Cost Natural Gas Pump Prototype (First Generation)

Low-Cost Natural Gas Pump Prototype (First Generation)

Broomfield, CO — With support from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Air Squared is developing low-cost scroll technology that opens up markets previously too cost-sensitive to justify the advantages of oil-free scroll compressors and vacuum pumps. The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) requires a very specific low-cost natural gas compressor as part of the GENSETS Program, but the cost breakthrough can be applied to Air Squared’s commercial product line as well. ARPA-E and Air Squared will both benefit from the availability of a low-cost natural gas compressor, but Air Squared will also benefit from the low-cost product line that evolves from the development.

Natural gas compressors are commercially available, but ARPA-E has aggressive cost targets to support GENSET commercialization. The ultimate price goal for the low-cost natural gas pump is under $100 in production. The specification is manageable, but the added complexity of pumping a combustible fluid (i.e. natural gas) makes the cost target even more challenging. Combustible fluid pumping typically requires isolating the motor from the working fluid. Magnetic couplings have been successful in previous Air Squared designs, but they are cost-prohibitive for this application. As part of the project, canned motors, shaft seals, and total enclosures will be investigated.

Design Specifications
  • Working Fluid: Natural Gas
  • Discharge Pressure: 35 psig
  • Volume Flow: > 5 lpmv
  • Power Consumption: < 60 W
Low-Cost Pump Enclosed Concept

Phase II Enclosed Low-Cost Pump Concept Rendering

Oil-free scroll compressors are historically more expensive than other technologies because they require very tight machining tolerances. Without lubrication, maintaining the necessary clearance between involute walls is critical and precision machining is required. Additionally, the tolerances of other components must be managed with similar attention, as tolerances of driving components are additive (e.g. motor shaft, crankshaft, idler shafts). Quality control of these components also adds cost to the manufacturing process.

The project will be broken up into three phases that each last approximately six months. Individual phases will target specific components or processes for cost reduction. Each phase will include:

  1.    A thorough review of the manufacturing processes
  2.    A comprehensive study of alternative manufacturing processes
  3.    Design for manufacturing evalutation

Much of the manufacturing technology that results from the project can be applied to other Air Squared products, resulting in a total cost overhaul of oil-free scroll technology. Soon the advantages of oil-free scroll technology – reduced noise, smooth operation, efficiency, reliability, long life, light weight, compact size – will be available at prices comparable to competing technology, such as piston and diaphragm. This also allows scroll technology to be adopted in applications that benefit from inherent advantages but are too cost-sensitive for the previous scroll designs. Several medical device applications, where the patient bears the cost burden, were previously out of reach, but can now benefit from the ultra-low noise and smooth operation of a low-cost scroll compressor or vacuum pump.

About Air Squared

Air Squared is the industry leader in oil-free scroll design and manufacturing. By introducing a simple design with fewer moving parts, scroll technology has established itself as a highly efficient, very reliable, cost-effective alternative. Through a growing line of compressors, vacuum pumps, and expanders, Air Squared makes the many advantages of oil-free scroll technology available to OEMs worldwide.

This material is based upon work supported by the ARPA-E GENSETS Program. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Energy or ARPA-E.

UPDATE (Septemeber 1st, 2017) – Phase I was a success, as the first-generation design met performance and cost targets and all project milestones. The next round of cost reductions will be implemented and tested during Phase II. The project is on track to meet the ultimate performance and cost targets by the end of Phase III.

September 1, 2017


ARPA-E Logo

Learn More