Air & Water DO Mix – Why That’s A Problem for Compressed Air Systems

Wherever you go, humidity – and its effects – are an inescapable fact of life. Low humidity areas (I’m looking at you, American Southwest) make for a “dry heat” in the summer that many prefer to the wet & muggy conditions that areas with higher humidity (like much of the rest of the United States) encounter during the “dog days” of summer.

Regardless of human comfort level issues, all atmospheric air contains water vapor in some finite proportion…in fact, next to nitrogen and oxygen, it makes up a bigger percentage of our air’s makeup than the next eleven trace gases combined:

Reference: CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics, edited by David R. Lide, 1997.

And, because warmer air is capable of holding higher moisture concentrations (a 20°F rise in temperature doubles the potential for holding moisture), chances are good that it’ll become a bigger problem for your compressed air system in the summertime. So…how BAD of a problem is it? Let’s do some math. Consider a nice, typical summer day in the midwest, when it’s 80°F outside, with a relative humidity of 75% and we’ll use the data from the tables below to calculate how much water collects in the compressed air system:

Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3
Source: Compressed Air & Gas Institute Handbook, Chapter 3

Let’s assume:

  • An industrial air compressor is making compressed air at 100psig, and at a discharge temperature of 100°F.
  • The demand on the compressed air system (all the pneumatic loads it services) is 500 SCFM.

Table 3.3 tells us that, at 80°F and 75% RH, the air the compressor is pulling in has 0.1521 gallons per 1,000 cubic feet.

Table 3.4, tells us that, at 100°F and 100psig, the compressor is discharging air with a moisture content of 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 Standard Cubic Feet.

The difference in these two values is the amount of water that will condense in the receiver for every 1,000 SCF that passes through, or 0.1521-0.0478=0.1043 gallons. Since the demand (e.g., the air flow rate out of the receiver) is 500 SCFM, that’s:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.1043 gallons/1,000 SCF = 25 gallons of condensate

That’s 25 gallons that has to be drained from the receiver tank over the course of every eight hours, so a properly operating condensate drain is crucial. There are a few types to choose from, and the appropriate one is oftentimes included by the air compressor supplier.

So, you’ve got a condensate drain on your compressor’s receiver, and it’s working properly. Crisis averted, right? Well, not so fast…that 100°F compressed air is very likely going to cool down as it flows through the distribution header. Remember all that moisture that the hot air holds? Assuming the compressed air cools to 70°F in the header (a reasonable assumption in most industrial settings), a bunch of it is going to condense, and make its way to your air tools, cylinders, blow off devices, etc., which can cause a host of problems.

Reversible Drum Vacs have tight passages where contaminants (like pipe rust) can accumulate and hamper performance. Fortunately, they are designed to be easy to clean and returned to peak performance.

And…I trust you saw this coming…we’re going to calculate just how much condensation we have to worry about. Using table 3.4 again, we see that the header’s air (at 100psig & 70°F) can only hold 0.0182 gallons per 1,000 SCF. So, after cooling down from 100°F (where the air holds 0.0478 gallons per 1,000 SCF) to 70°F, that means 0.0296 gallons per 1,000 SCF will condense. So:

500 SCFM X 60 min/hr X 8 hr/shift X 0.0296 gal/1,000 SCF = 7.1 gallons of condensate

Qualified installers will have sloped the piping away from the compressor, with drip legs strategically placed at low points, so that condensate can drain, collect, and be disposed of…oftentimes via similar devices to the condensate drains you’ll find on the compressor’s main receiver. Good engineering practice, of course, dictates point-of-use filtration – EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators, with 5-micron particulate elements, and centrifugal elements for moisture removal, are also essential to prevent water problems for your compressed air operated products.

Good engineering practice calls for point of use filtration and moisture removal, such as that provided by EXAIR Filter Separators.

EXAIR Corporation remains dedicated to helping you get the most out of your compressed air system. If you have questions, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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