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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Intelligent Compressed Air: Deliquescent Dryers – What are They and How do They Work?

EXAIR has written blogs about the different types of dryers that are used to remove liquid from compressed air systems. In this blog, I will be discussing the deliquescent dryer. This dryer falls under the desiccant dryer category, and unlike the regenerative cousins, it is the least commonly used type of dryer. The regenerative desiccant dryers use a medium that will adsorb the water vapor, and the deliquescent dryers use a hygroscopic material that will absorb the water vapor. This salt-like medium has a strong affinity for water, and it comes in a tablet or briquette form. Placed inside a single unit pressure vessel, the “wet” compressed air passes through the bed to become dry. The size of the pressure vessel is determined by the compressed air usage which allows for the proper amount of contact time with the hygroscopic bed. Generally, the dew point will be between 20 to 50 deg. F (11 – 28 deg. C) less than the compressed air inlet temperature. Unlike most dryers, the dew point after deliquescent dryers will vary with the inlet air temperatures.

Vessel Design

The design of vessel is very important for the function of a deliquescent dryer. A grate is required to hold the medium off the bottom. The compressed air will flow from the bottom, up through the bed, and out from the top. The predetermined space between the bed and the bottom of the vessel is used for the liquid that is generated. When “wet” compressed air passes through the bed, the hygroscopic material will absorb the water and change the tablets from a solid into a liquid. Deliquescent dryers got the name from the definition of the verb, “deliquesce” which is “becomes liquid by absorbing moisture from the air”. Once the material is turned into a liquid, it cannot be regenerated. The liquid must be discarded periodically from the vessel and new solid material must be added. With the single tower design, the deliquescent dryers are relatively inexpensive.

Some advantages in using the deliquescent dryers are that they do not require any electricity or have any moving parts. So, they can be used in remote locations, rugged areas, or hazardous locations. They are commonly used to reduce the dew point in compressed air, natural gas, landfill gas and biogas systems. Without the ability for regeneration, no additional compressed air will be lost or used. In comparing the power requirement to other compressed air dryers, the deliquescent dryers have the lowest power requirement at 0.2Kw/100 cfm of air. (This energy rating is only due to the additional power required for the air compressor to overcome the pressure drop in the dryer).

Some disadvantages in using the deliquescent dryers is that the hygroscopic material degrades. The deliquesced liquid does have to be drained and disposed, and new material does have to be added. Even though they do not have any moving parts, they still require periodic maintenance. The deliquescent material can be corrosive. So, after-filters are required to capture any liquid or dust material that may carry over and damage downstream piping and pneumatic components. Also, the variation in the dew point suppression can limit locations and areas where it can be used.

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR. We would be happy to hear from you.

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

 

Photos:  used from Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

Twin Line Vac Solution For Transferring Alumina Desiccant

LV feeding tank 2
The tank on the right needs to be filled and drained of alumina desiccant

The sketch above shows a 115” tall tank which needs to be filled and emptied multiple times with activated alumina desiccant.  The desiccant ranges in size from 1/8” to ¼” with a median size of 5/32”, and has a bulk density of 48 pounds/ft³.  The material has no fire or spill hazards, and poses a low health risk.  (We evaluate these characteristics with every application to ensure the Line Vac is a viable solution.)  The end user wanted to find a solution to move the alumina into the tank, and then a method to move it out of the tank.  Total material transfer could be as high as 1500 pounds/hour.

Originally, the end user considered the setup shown below.  This setup would empty the tank through the top, and then use the same Line Vac to refill.

LV feeding tank
Original transfer solution

What the end user and I came to realize, is that we could achieve full automation in emptying the tank by using a dedicated Line Vac with a slide gate.  And, another dedicated Line Vac could be used to fill the tank, preventing any toggling of the Line Vac orientation. This was the solution, one Line Vac on the desiccant fill port and one Line Vac on the desiccant empty port.

Because of the high conveyance rate and the requirement for a material which could withstand abrasives, model 150200, our 2″ Heavy Duty Line Vac made of a hardened alloy, was recommended.

If you have a material conveyance application and need a compressed air based solution, contact an EXAIR Application Engineer.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE