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/