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

Supply Side Review: Deliquescent Type Dryers

As mentioned in my post last week.  The supply side of compressed air systems within a facility is critical to production.  The quality of air produced by your compressor and sent to the demand side of the system needs to be filtered for both moisture and particulate.  One method to dry the air, that is the topic for this blog, is deliquescent type dryers.

These dryers operate like an adsorbent dryer such as a desiccant medium dryer.  The main variance is that the drying medium (desiccant) actually undergoes a phase change from solids to liquids.  Because of this the material is used up and cannot be returned to its original state for reuse.   The liquids formed by the desiccant dissolving in the removed water vapor are then filtered out of the air stream before it is passed on to the demand side of the air system.

There are many compounds that are used to absorb the moisture in the wet compressed air.  A few options are potassium, calcium, or sodium salts and many that contain a urea base.  The desiccant compound must be maintained at a minimum level for the dryer to contain enough media to successfully dry the air.

These dryers are generally a single tank system that is fed with compressed air from a side port near the bottom of the tank.  The air then travels up past drip trays where the desiccant and water mixture fall and ultimately ends up in the bottom of the tank.  The air then goes through a material bed that must be kept at a given level in order to correctly absorb the moisture in the air.  The dry air is then pushed out the top of the tank.

As the desiccant material absorbs the liquid from the compressed air flowing through the tank it falls onto the drip trays and then into the bottom of the tank where it is drained out of the system.  This process can be seen in the image below.

 

Deliquescent type compressed air drying system
How a deliquescent air dryer works – 1(VMAC Air Innovated, 2017)

 

The dew point that this style dryer is able to achieve is dependent on several variables:

  • Compressed air temperature
  • Compressed air pressure / velocity
  • Size and configuration of the tank
  • Compression of the absorption media
  • Type of absorption media and age of media

These dryers are simplistic in their design because there are no moving parts as well as easy to install and carry a low startup cost.

Some disadvantages include:

  • Dewpoint range 20°F – 30°F (Again this is according to the media used.)
  • Dissolved absorption material can pose a disposal issue as it may not be able to be simply put down a drain
  • Replacement of the absorption material

Even with disadvantages the ability to supply the demand side of a compressed air system for a production facility is key to maintaining successful operations.  If you would like to discuss any type of compressed air dryer, please contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

1 – Deliquescent Dryer Image: VMAC Air Innovated: The Deliquescent Dryer – https://www.vmacair.com/blog/the-deliquescent-dryer/

 

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
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook