How to Manage Condensate in Your Compressed Air System

If you operate an air compressor, you’re drawing water vapor into your compressed air system.  Factors like climate control (or lack thereof,) and humidity will dictate how much.  If (or more to the point, when) it condenses, it becomes an issue that must be addressed.  There are several types of dryer systems to choose from, usually when you buy your compressor…we’ve covered those in a number of blogs.  Some of these can leave a little more water vapor than others, but remain popular and effective, when considering the cost, and cost of operation, of the different types.

So, how do you handle the condensate that the dryer doesn’t remove?

  • Receivers, or storage tanks (like EXAIR Model 9500-60, shown to the right,) are commonly used for several reasons:
    • By providing an intermediate storage of compressed air close to the point of use, fluctuations across the system won’t adversely affect an application that needs a constant flow and pressure.
    • This also can keep the air compressor from cycling rapidly, which leads to wear & tear, and additional maintenance headaches.
    • When fitted with a condensate drain (more on those in a minute,) they can serve as a wet receiver.  Condensate collects in the bottom and is manually, or automatically emptied.
  • Condensate drains, while popularly installed on receivers, are oftentimes found throughout larger systems where the vapor is prone to condense (intercoolers, aftercoolers, filters and dryers) and where the condensation can be particularly problematic (drip legs or adjacent to points of use.) There are a couple of options to choose from, each with their own pros & cons:
    • Manual drains are self explanatory: they’re ball valves; cycled periodically by operators.  Pros: cheap & simple.  Cons: easy to blow down too often or for too long, which wastes compressed air.  It’s also just as easy to blow down not often enough, or not long enough, which doesn’t solve the condensate problem.
    • Timer drains are self explanatory too: they cycle when the timer tells them to. Pros: still fairly cheap, and no attention is required.  Cons: they’re going to open periodically (per the timer setting) whether there’s condensate or not.
    • Demand, or “zero loss” drains collect condensate until their reservoir is full, then they discharge the water.  Pros: “zero loss” means just that…they only actuate when condensate is present, and they stop before any compressed air gets out.  Cons: higher purchase price, more moving parts equals potential maintenance concerns.
  • The “last line of defense” (literally) is point-of-use condensate removal.  This is done with products like EXAIR Automatic Drain Filter Separators.  They’re installed close to compressed air operated devices & products, oftentimes just upstream of the pressure regulator and/or flow controls…the particulate filter protects against debris in these devices, and the centrifugal element “spins” any last remaining moisture from the compressed air flow before it gets used.
Good engineering practice calls for point of use filtration and moisture removal, such as that provided by EXAIR Filter Separators.

Efficient and safe use of your compressed air includes maintaining the quality of your compressed air.  If you’d like to find out more about how EXAIR Corporation can help you get the most out of your compressed air system, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Wet Receivers and Condensate Drains

Receiver Tank

For properly designed compressed air systems, air compressors will use primary storage tanks, or receivers.  They are necessary to accommodate for fluctuations in airflow demand and to help prevent rapid cycling of the air compressor.  (Reference: Advanced Management of Compressed Air – Storage and Capacitance)  There are two types of primary receivers, a wet receiver tank and a dry receiver tank.  The wet receiver is located between the air compressor and the compressed air dryer where humid air and water will be stored.  The dry receiver is located after the compressed air dryer.  In this blog, I will be reviewing the wet receivers and their requirements as a storage tank.

Air compressors discharge hot humid air created by the internal compression.  A byproduct of this compression is water.  By placing a wet receiver on the discharge side of the air compressor, this will create a low velocity area to allow the excess water to fall out.  It will also give the hot air time to cool, allowing the compressed air dryers to be more effective.  With wet receivers, it will reduce cycle rates of your air compressors for less wear and store compressed air to accommodate for flow fluctuations in your pneumatic system.

But, there are some disadvantages with a wet receiver.  For compressed air dryers, it is possible to exceed the specified flow ratings.   If the demand side draws a large volume of air from the supply side, the efficiency of the compressed air dryers will be sacrificed, allowing moisture to go downstream.  Another issue with the wet receiver is the amount of water that the air compressor is pumping into it. As an example, a 60 HP air compressor can produce as much as 17 gallons of water per day.  As you can see, it would not take long to fill a wet receiver.  So, a condensate drain is required to get rid of the excess water.

Condensate drains come in different types and styles.  They are connected to a port at the bottom of the wet receiver where the water will collect.  I will cover the most common condensate drains and explain the pros and cons of each one.

  • Manual Drain – A ball valve or twist drain are the least efficient and the least expensive of all the condensate drains. The idea of having personnel draining the receiver tanks periodically is not the most reliable.  In some cases, people will “crack” the valve open to continuously drain the tank.  This is very inefficient and costly as compressed air is being wasted.
  • Timer Drain Valves – These valves have an electric timer on a solenoid to open and close a two-way valve or a ball valve. The issue comes in trying to set the correct time for the open and close intervals.  During seasonal changes, the amount of water going into the wet receiver will change.  If the timer is not set frequent enough, water can build up inside the receiver.  If too frequent, then compressed air is wasted.  Compared to the manual valve, they are more reliable and efficient; but there is still potential for compressed air waste.

    Timer Relay
  • No-waste Drains – Just like the name, these drains are the most efficient. They are designed with a float inside to open and close a drain vent.  What is unique about the float mechanism is that the drain vent is always under water.  So, when the no-waste drain is operating, no compressed air is being lost or wasted; only water is being drained.  The most common problem comes with rust, sludge, and debris that can plug the drain vent.

All wet receivers require a condensate drain to remove liquid water.  But, the importance for removing water without wasting compressed air is significant for saving money and compressed air.  EXAIR also has a line of Intelligent Compressed Air® products that can reduce your compressed air waste and save you money.  You can contact an Application Engineer for more details.

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

 

Photo: Timer Relay by connectors distribution box.  Attribution – CC BY-SA 2.0