Large reciprocating compressors are important equipment used in a wide range of process industries. Most of these compressors have huge power requirements and their capacity often needs to be regulated. Advanced technologies in compressor capacity control are effective approaches for saving large amounts of energy in process industries. This paper reviews the basic theories and the state of the art of the capacity control technologies. In particular, a compressor working procedure is first presented using an analogy to the pulse signal concept. Compressor capacity control methods are classified into pulse frequency modulation and pulse amplitude modulation from a perspective of pulse signal processing. The mechanisms and feasibility of some important methods, including dead volume variable control, partial-stroke and full-stroke suction valve opening, are reviewed. Based on the pulse signal concept, a duty cycle regulation method for capacity control is introduced, and the performance and implementation of the new method are compared with those of the existing suction valve opening methods. The duty cycle regulation method has integrated advantages over the other methods in terms of regulating precision, pressure stability, energy saving and reliability. All the suction valve opening methods can cause gas reflux, resulting in the so-called breathing effect. The breathing effect has negative effects on regulation performance and compressor security, which needs further investigation in the future.
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