What Are Compressed Air Dryers and Why are They Necessary?

desiccant-dryer

When we talk with customers about their EXAIR Products, we also discuss the quality of their compressed air. Many of our products have no moving parts and are considered maintenance-free when supplied with clean, dry compressed air. One of the most critical aspects of a compressed air distribution system is the dryer.

No matter where you are in the world, the atmospheric air will contain water vapor. Even in the driest place in the world, McMurdo Dry Valley in Antartica, there is some moisture in the air. As this air cools to the saturation point, also known as dew point, the vapor will condense into liquid water. The amount of this moisture will vary depending on both the ambient temperature and the relative humidity. According to the Compressed Air Challenge, a general rule of thumb is that the amount of moisture air can hold at a saturated condition will double for every increase of 20°F. In regions or periods of warmer temperatures, this poses an even greater problem. Some problems that can be associated with moisture-laden compressed air include:

  • Increased wear of moving parts due to removal of lubrication
  • Formation of rust in piping and equipment
  • Can affect the color, adherence, and finish of paint that is applied using compressed air
  • Jeopardizes processes that are dependent upon pneumatic controls. A malfunction due to rust, scale, or clogged orifices can damage product or cause costly shutdowns
  • In colder temperatures, the moisture can freeze in the control lines

In order to remove moisture from the air after compression, a dryer must be installed at the outlet of the compressor. There are three primary types of dryers used in the compressor industry: refrigerant, desiccant, and membrane. Each style has it’s own inherent applications and benefits.

Refrigerant type dryers cool the air, removing the condensed moisture before allowing it to continue through the distribution system. These will generally lower the dew point of the air to 35-40°F which is sufficient for most applications. So long as the temperature in the facility never dips below the dew point, condensation will not occur. Typical advantages of a refrigerant dryer include: low initial capital cost, relatively low operating cost, and low maintenance costs. This makes them a common solution used in an industrial compressed air system.

Another type of dryer is the desiccant dryer. I’m sure you’ve seen the small “Do Not Eat” packages that are included in a variety of food products, shoes, medications, etc. These are filled with a small amount of desiccant (typically silica gel) that is there to absorb any moisture that could contaminate the product. In a desiccant dryer, the same principle applies. The compressed air is forced through a “tower” that is filled with desiccant. The moisture is removed from the air supply and then passed into the distribution system. One minor drawback with a desiccant type dryer is that the desiccant material does have to periodically be replaced. Desiccant dryers can also be used in addition to a refrigerant dryer for critical applications that require all water vapor to be removed.

The third type of dryer is the membrane dryer. In this style, extremely low dew points are able to be achieved. This makes them the optimal choice for outdoor applications where the air could be susceptible to frost in colder climates. They are also ideal for medical and dental applications where consistent reliability and air quality is an absolute must. A membrane dryer does not require a source of electricity to operate and its compact size allows it to be easily installed with minimal downtime and floor space. Maintenance is minimal and consists of periodic replacement of the membrane. While they are good for some applications, they do come with limitations. They do limit the capacity of the system with variations ranging from as little as 1 SCFM to 200 SCFM. Because of this, they’re often used as a point-of-use dryer for specific applications rather than an entire compressed air system. Some of the compressed air must be purged with along with the moisture which consumes excess compressed air.

Regardless of what products you’re using at the point-of-use, a dryer is undoubtedly a critical component of that system. Delivering clean, dry air to your EXAIR Products or other pneumatic devices will help to ensure a long life out of your equipment.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

About Heat of Compression Dryers

Drying compressed air is similar to removing the humidity in the air when using an air conditioning system.

From a functional standpoint, what does this really mean?  What will take place in the compressed air system if the air is not dried and the moisture is allowed to remain?

The answer is in the simple fact that moisture is damaging.  Rust, increased wear of moving parts, discoloration, process failure due to clogging, frozen control lines in cold weather, false readings from instruments and controls – ALL of these can happen due to moisture in the compressed air.  It stands to reason, then, that if we want long-term operation of our compressed air products, having dry air is a must.

desiccant-dryer
A Heat of Compression regenerative desiccant dryer for compressed air

 

A heat of compression type dryer is a regenerative desiccant dryer which uses the heat generated by the compression of the ambient air to regenerate the moisture removing capability of the desiccant used to dry the compressed air.

heat-of-compression-regenerative-desiccant-dryer-diagram.png

When using one of these dryers, the air is pulled directly from the outlet of the compressor with no cooling or treatment to the air and is fed through a desiccant bed in “Tank 1” where it regenerates the moisture removing capabilities of the desiccant inside the tank.  The compressed air is then fed through a regeneration cooler, a separator, and finally another desiccant bed, this time in “Tank 2”, where the moisture is removed.  The output of “Tank 2” is supplied to the facilities as clean, dry compressed air.  After enough time, “tank 1” and “tank 2” switch, allowing the hot output of the compressor to regenerate the desiccant in “tank 2” while utilizing the moisture removing capabilities of the desiccant in “tank 1”.

If you have questions about your compressed air system and how the end use devices are operating, contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.  We’ll be happy to discuss your system and ways to optimize your current setup.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Heated Desiccant Dryer by Compressor1.  Creative Commons License

Intelligent Compressed Air: Membrane Dryers

A critical component on the supply side of your compressor system is the dryer. Atmospheric air contained within a compressed air system contains water vapor. The higher the temperature of the air, the more volume of moisture that air is capable of holding. As air is cooled, this water vapor can no longer be contained and this water falls out in the form of condensation. The temperature where this water will drop out is referred to as the dew point.

At a temperature of 75°F and 75% relative humidity, approximately 20 gallons of water will enter a 25HP compressor during a 24-hour period. As air is compressed, this water becomes concentrated. Since it’s heated during the compression process, this water stays in a vapor form. When this air cools further downstream, this vapor condenses into droplet form.

Moisture within the compressed air system can result in rust forming on the inside of the distribution piping, process failure due to clogged frozen lines in colder weather, false readings from instruments and controls, as well as issues with the point of use products installed within the system.

The solution to this problem is to install a dryer system. We’ve spent some time here on the EXAIR blog reviewing refrigerant dryers , desiccant dryers, deliquescent dryers, and heat of compression dryers. For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to focus on one of the newer styles on the market today: the membrane dryer.

Membrane Dryer

In a membrane dryer, compressed air is forced through a specially designed membrane that permits water vapor to pass through faster than the air. The water vapor is then purged along with a small amount of air while the rest of the compressed air passes through downstream. Generally, the dew point after the membrane dryer is reduced to about 40°F with even lower dew points also possible down to as low as -40°F!

With such low dew points possible, it makes a membrane dryer an optimal choice in outdoor applications that are susceptible to frost in colder climates. Membrane dryers also are able to be used in medical and dental applications where consistent reliability is critical.

A membrane dryer does not require a source of electricity in order to operate. The compact size makes it simple to install without requiring a lot of downtime and floor space. Since they have no moving parts, maintenance needed is minimal. Most often, this maintenance takes the form of checking/replacing filter elements just upstream of the membrane dryer. The membrane itself does need to be periodically replaced, an indicator on the membrane dryer will display when it needs to be changed. If particular instruments or processes in your facility are sensitive to moisture, a membrane dryer might be the best option.

However, there are some drawbacks to these types of dryers. They’re limited to low capacity installations, with models ranging from less than 1 SCFM up to 200 SCFM. This makes them more applicable for point-of-use installations than for an entire compressed air system. The nature in which the membrane dryer works necessitates some of the air to be purged out of the system along with the moisture. To achieve dew points as low as -40°F, this can equate to as much as 20% of the total airflow. When proper filtration isn’t installed upstream, oils and lubricants can ruin the dryer membrane and require premature replacement.

Make sure and ask plenty of questions of your compressor supplier during installation and maintenance of your system so you’re aware of the options out there. You’ll of course want to make sure that you’re using this air efficiently. For that, EXAIR’s wide range of engineered Intelligent Compressed Air Products fit the bill. With a variety of products available for same-day shipment from stock, we’ve got you covered.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

 

Membrane Dryer Schematic – From Compressed Air Challenge, Best Practices for Compressed Air Systems, Second Edition

 

Supply Side Review: Heat of Compression-Type Dryers

The supply side of a compressed air system has many critical parts that factor in to how well the system operates and how easily it can be maintained.   Dryers for the compressed air play a key role within the supply side are available in many form factors and fitments.  Today we will discuss heat of compression-type dryers.

Heat of compression-type dryer- Twin Tower Version

Heat of compression-type dryers are a regenerative desiccant dryer that take the heat from the act of compression to regenerate the desiccant.  By using this cycle they are grouped as a heat reactivated dryer rather than membrane technology, deliquescent type, or refrigerant type dryers.   They are also manufactured into two separate types.

The single vessel-type heat of compression-type dryer offers a no cycling action in order to provide continuous drying of throughput air.  The drying process is performed within a single pressure vessel with a rotating desiccant drum.  The vessel is divided into two air streams, one is a portion of air taken straight off the hot air exhaust from the air compressor which is used to provide the heat to dry the desiccant. The second air stream is the remainder of the air compressor output after it has been processed through the after-cooler. This same air stream passes through the drying section within the rotating desiccant drum where the air is then dried.  The hot air stream that was used for regeneration passes through a cooler just before it gets reintroduced to the main air stream all before entering the desiccant bed.  The air exits from the desiccant bed and is passed on to the next point in the supply side before distribution to the demand side of the system.

The  twin tower heat of compression-type dryer operates on the same theory and has a slightly different process.  This system divides the air process into two separate towers.  There is a saturated tower (vessel) that holds all of the desiccant.  This desiccant is regenerated by all of the hot air leaving the compressor discharge.  The total flow of compressed air then flows through an after-cooler before entering the second tower (vessel) which dries the air and then passes the air flow to the next stage within the supply side to then be distributed to the demand side of the system.

The heat of compression-type dryers do require a large amount of heat and escalated temperatures in order to successfully perform the regeneration of the desiccant.  Due to this they are mainly observed being used on systems which are based on a lubricant-free rotary screw compressor or a centrifugal compressor.

No matter the type of dryer your system has in place, EXAIR still recommends to place a redundant point of use filter on the demand side of the system.  This helps to reduce contamination from piping, collection during dryer down time, and acts as a fail safe to protect your process.  If you would like to discuss supply side or demand side factors of your compressed air system please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Heat of compression image: Compressed Air Challenge: Drive down your energy costs with heat of compression recovery: https://www.plantservices.com/articles/2013/03-heat-of-compression-recovery/

 

Refrigerant Compressed Air Dryer Systems

No matter what your use of compressed air entails, moisture is very likely an issue.  Air compressors pressurize air that they pull in straight from the environment and most of the time, there’s at least a little humidity involved.  Now, if you have an industrial air compressor, it’s also very likely that it was supplied with a dryer, for this very reason.

There are different types of dryer systems, depending on your requirements.

For practical purposes, “dryness” of compressed air is really its dew point.  That’s the temperature at which water vapor in the air will condense into liquid water…which is when it becomes the aforementioned issue in your compressed air applications.  This can cause rust in air cylinders, motors, tools, etc.  It can be detrimental to blow offs – anything in your compressed air flow is going to get on the surface of whatever you’re blowing onto.  It can lead to freezing in Vortex Tube applications when a low enough cold air temperature is produced.

Some very stringent applications (food & pharma folks, I’m looking at you) call for VERY low dew points…ISO 8673.1 (food and pharma folks, you know what I’m talking about) calls for a dew point of -40°F (-40°C) as well as very fine particulate filtration specs.  As a consumer who likes high levels of sanitary practice for the foods and medicines I put in my body, I’m EXTREMELY appreciative of this.  The dryer systems that are capable of low dew points like this operate as physical filtration (membrane types) or effect a chemical reaction to absorb or adsorb water (desiccant or deliquescent types.)  These are all on the higher ends of purchase price, operating costs, and maintenance levels.

For many industrial and commercial applications, though, you really just need a dew point that’s below the lowest expected ambient temperature in which you’ll be operating your compressed air products & devices.  Refrigerant type air dryers are ideal for this.  They tend to be on the less expensive side for purchase, operating, and maintenance costs.  They typically produce air with a dew point of 35-40°F (~2-5°C) but if that’s all you need, they let you avoid the expense of the ones that produce those much lower dew points.  Here’s how they work:

  • Red-to-orange arrows: hot air straight from the compressor gets cooled by some really cold air (more on that in a moment.)
  • Orange-to-blue arrows: the air is now cooled further by refrigerant…this causes a good amount of the water vapor in it to condense, where it leaves the system through the trap & drain (black arrow.)
  • Blue-to-purple arrows: Remember when the hot air straight from the compressor got cooled by really cold air? This is it. Now it flows into the compressed air header, with a sufficiently low dew point, for use in the plant.

Non-cycling refrigerant dryers are good for systems that operate with a continuous air demand.  They have minimal dew point swings, but, because they run all the time, they’re not always ideal when your compressed air is not in continuous use.  For those situations, cycling refrigerant dryers will conserve energy…also called mass thermal dryers, they use the refrigerant to cool a solution (usually glycol) to cool the incoming air.  Once the glycol reaches a certain temperature, the system turns on and runs until the solution (thermal mass) is cooled, then it turns off.  Because of this, a cycling system’s operating time (and cost) closely follows the compressor’s load – so if your compressor runs 70% of the time, a cycling dryer will cost 30% less to operate than a non-cycling one.

EXAIR Corporation wants you to get the most out of your compressed air system.  If you have questions, I’d love to hear from you.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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The Importance of Compressed Air Filtration

In this blog, I would like to turn your attention to our accessories that support our Intelligent Compressed Air® Products; the Filter Separator and the Oil Removing Filter.  EXAIR products use compressed air to coat, conserve, cool, convey and clean.  So, to keep our products running properly and efficiently, we need to supply them with clean, pressurized air.  If we look at the two types of filters that we offer, we can see how they can play an important part in your compressed air system.

Filter Separators

Filter separators are used to remove bulk liquid and contamination from the compressed air stream.  They have a 5-micron filter and work very well if you get a slug of liquid in your compressed air system.  They use mechanical separation to remove the large particles of dirt and water from the air stream.

Most facilities use some type of compressed air dryer in their system to dry and condition the compressed air.  But, if a system failure occurs, then water, oil, and dirt can be pushed into the compressed air lines and perhaps into your EXAIR products.

Even if you have good quality air, it is still important to keep your products protected.  I would consider the Filter Separator as a minimum level of protection that should be used.

Oil Removal Filters

The Oil Removal Filters are used to keep the compressed air even cleaner yet.  They work great at removing very small particles of dirt and oil.  The 0.03-micron media of the Oil Removal Filter is designed to “coalesce” the fine liquid particles into large droplets.

Thus, allowing gravity to remove it from the compressed air stream.  Some common issues allow for dirt and oil particles to collect in “dead” zones within the air lines.  As it piles up and grows, portions can break off and get into the air stream affecting pneumatic devices.

The Oil Removal Filter will be able to help eliminate this long-term problem in your compressed air system.  As a note, Oil Removal Filters are not great for bulk separation.  If you have a system with lots of water, you should use a Filter Separator in front of the Oil Removal Filter to optimize the filtration.

Now that we went through each type, how do we use them together to get the best supply of compressed air?  We always want them to be installed upstream of a Regulator.  This is because the velocity is lower at higher pressures.

Lower velocities mean lower pressure drops which is great for supplying the proper amount of compressed air to EXAIR products.  If you are using a combination of both filters, the Filter Separator will be upstream of the Oil Removal Filter.  The Filter Separator will knock down the large particles and liquid slugs allowing the Oil Removal Filter to remove the smaller droplets and particles.

EXAIR offers a range of sizes to help support our products.  They range from ¼” NPT ports up to 1 ½” NPT ports.  The size of the ports determines the flow rating for each unit.  EXAIR also has Mounting Brackets to mount the filters to walls or frames.

To support each type of filter, we have replacement elements and bowl kits.  Since the function of the filter is to remove debris, we recommend to change the filter element once a year or when it reaches 10 PSID pressure drop; whichever comes first.

If we can analyze the compressed air systems, I would like to categorize it into a good and premium quality.  For the good quality of compressed air, you can have the compressed air run through the Filter Separator.  For the premium quality of compressed air, you can have your compressed air run through the Filter Separator and then through the Oil Removal Filter.

With clean quality air, your EXAIR products will provide you with effective, long-lasting performance without maintenance downtime.

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

The Case For Desiccant Compressed Air Dryers

Most people are familiar with desiccant from the small packets we find enclosed with a new pair of shoes, in a bag of beef jerky, or in some medication bottles.  These packets almost always say “Do Not Eat,” and I get that for the ones in the beef jerky or the pill bottles, but I just don’t understand why they put it on the desiccant packets bound for a shoe box…

Anyway, desiccant (in MUCH larger volumes than the household examples above) are also used to get water vapor out of compressed air.  Desiccant dryers are popular because they’re effective and reliable.  The most common design consists of two vertical tanks, or towers, filled with desiccant media – usually activated alumina or silica gel.

These materials are prone to adsorption (similar to absorption, only it’s a physical process instead of a chemical one) which means they’re good at trapping, and holding, water.  In operation, one of these towers has air coming in it straight from the compressor (after it’s become pressurized, remember, it still has just as much water vapor in it as it did when it was drawn in…up to 5% of the total gas volume.)

When that tower’s desiccant has adsorbed water vapor for long enough (it’s usually controlled by a timer,) the dryer controls will port the air through the other tower, and commence a restoration cycle on the first tower.  So, one is always working, and the other is always getting ready for work.

There are three methods by which the desiccant media can be restored:

  • Regenerative Desiccant Dryers send a purge flow of dry air (fresh from the operating tower’s discharge) through the off-line tower’s desiccant bed.  This dry air flow reverses the adsorption process, and carries the water away as it’s exhausted from the dryer.  This is simple and effective, but it DOES use a certain amount of your compressed air.
  • Heat Of Compression Desiccant Dryers use the heat from pressurized air straight from the compressor(s).  This hot air is directed through one tower, where it removes moisture from the desiccant.  It then flows through a heat exchanger where it’s cooled, condensing the moisture, before it flows through the other tower to remove any remaining moisture.  This method doesn’t add to your compressed air usage, but it only works with oil-free compressors.
  • The third method uses a hot air blower to flow heated air through the off-line desiccant bed.  It’s similar to the Regenerative type, but it doesn’t use compressed air.  However, they DO require a certain amount of wattage for the heater…remember, electricity isn’t cheap either.

As an EXAIR Application Engineer, it’s my job to help you get the most out of our products, and your compressed air system.  If you have questions about compressed air, call me.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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