Refrigerated Air Dryers

Whenever air gets compressed, it reduces the space for the water molecules to remain as a vapor; which causes condensation.  For this, compressed air dryers are an important part of a compressed air system.  They are designed to remove moisture to prevent condensation further downstream in the system.  The three main types of dryers are refrigerated, desiccant, and membrane. For this blog, I will cover the refrigerant-type compressed air dryers.

Compressed air dryers are rated with a dew point rating.  A dew point is the temperature at which the air has a relative humidity of 100%.  Since the air cannot become more saturated with water than 100%RH, water will condense and fall out like “rain”.  You can see this effect during the cool mornings when dew forms on the grass.  Compressed air dryers are designed to reduce the dew point temperature of your compressed air.  For a refrigerant type, they are near the dew point temperature of 38oF (3oC).  Like a refrigerator, they use refrigerant to cool the compressed air.  We cannot go below this temperature as it could form ice inside the dryer.  But, as long as the ambient temperature does not go below 38oF (3oC), liquid water will not be present in the pneumatic system. 

There are two main types of refrigerated air dryers; cycling and non-cycling.  Cycling type refrigerant air dryers will cool a liquid mass, generally a glycol-water mixture, to a set-point and turn off.  The liquid will go through an air-to-liquid heat exchanger to remove the heat from the compressed air.  Referring to the cycling action, when the liquid mass goes above the set point, the refrigeration system will restart and cool the liquid mass again.  The cycling refrigerant air dryers are more expensive, but they are more efficient. 

Non-cycling refrigerant air dryers are more common.  The refrigeration system continues to run through an air-to-air heat exchanger to cool the compressed air.  It is similar to your AC system in your car.  With this type of system, they are more susceptible to the environment, i.e., temperature, elevation, and humidity.  So, adjustments are required for proper installation. 

With both types of refrigerant dryers, the internal compressed air section is very similar.  They will have a filter separator to remove the liquid that is created from the condensation from the cold temperatures.  They also have an additional air-to-air heat exchanger.  This will provide two important features for the refrigerated air dryers.  As the cold air leaves the refrigerant section, it helps to cool the incoming compressed air.  This will make the system more efficient.  And as the hot incoming compressed air helps to warm the cold air leaving the dryer, it will stop the condensation of liquid water on the outside of the pipes.  Like the dew forming on the grass during cool mornings, the same will occur with the compressed air piping system. 

Moisture-laden compressed air can cause issues such as increased wear on the pneumatic tools, the formation of rust in piping and equipment, quality defects in painting processes, and frozen pipes in colder climates.  Regardless of what products you’re using at the point-of-use, a compressed air dryer is undoubtedly a critical component of the compressed air system.  Delivering clean, dry air to your EXAIR Products or other pneumatic devices will help to ensure a long life out of your equipment.  If you wish to discuss more about your compressed air system or how EXAIR can provide a more efficient way to use that compressed air, an Application Engineer will be happy to assist you. 

John Ball, CCASS


Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Photo: Grass morning dew by RuslanSikunovPixabay License

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