Intelligent Compressed Air: What You Need To Know About Membrane Dryers

After nitrogen and oxygen, water vapor is the third most abundant (by percentage) component of air. Because of the numerous problems that moisture causes in compressed air systems, it’s critical to have measures in place to remove it. That’s why any industrial air compressor will be equipped with a dryer.

There are a number of dryer types to choose from, all with their own “pros & cons” based on variables such as compressor size, installation environment, and specifics of what the compressed air is going to be used for.

Membrane dryers are among the newest technologies used in compressed air treatment. They work by osmosis…that’s the principle by which a selectively permeable membrane will allow some stuff (but not all stuff) to pass through. In biology, it’s how:

  • The cells in a plant’s roots draw moisture from soil.
  • Your blood picks up oxygen from your lungs & nutrients from your digestive system and delivers it to your organs.
  • Placing the textbook under your pillow tonight transfers information you’ll need for the big exam tomorrow into your brain.

OK; that last one isn’t true, and you’d know that if you’d read the textbook. In addition to the natural world, the principle is also exploited in industry for commercial gain:

  • Desalination and purification of water.
  • Nitrogen generation.
  • Removing water and water vapor from compressed air.

For the purposes of today’s blog, that last one is the one we’re interested in. The construction of a membrane dryer consists of a cylinder filled with tiny polymer tubes with a special coating on their inner walls…this is the membrane itself, which lets the water pass through, via the abovementioned principle of selective permeation.

As compressed air enters the cylinder, it’s directed through the polymer tubes, which allow water (but not air) to pass through their walls due to the difference in partial pressure between the gases (e.g., compressed air & water vapor) on the inside, & outside, of the tubes. Air flow, traveling in the opposite direction outside the tubes, sweeps the water out. The higher the sweep air flow rate, the lower the dew point of the compressed air out.

Membrane dryers have no moving parts, and use no electricity…their only utility load is the compressed air consumption of the sweep (also called “purge”) air flow. This is noteworthy, as it can be as high as 15-20% of the compressed air flow, if maximum dew point suppression is desired.

Due to their simple & compact design, they’re among the easiest dryers to install, and they’re unaffected by environmental contamination & ambient temperature. They are, however, quite sensitive to internal contamination. Membrane dryer systems typically incorporate a proprietary filtration system to remove oil/oil vapor and fine particulates from the compressed air flow.

The biggest limitation of a membrane dryer is their flow capacity – they’re going to max out at about 200 SCFM, so they’re best suited to small-to-mid size systems. If a particular area of the facility requires a lower dew point than the rest of the plant, a membrane dryer is definitely worth a look. That’s an ideal fit for its “pros”:

  • Low capital, and operating costs.
  • Ease of installation, even in a compact space
  • Maintenance free

And the “cons” are minimalized:

  • Purge air flow has to be a higher percentage of total flow for lower dew point, but it’s a percentage of a specific area’s air flow, not the whole system.
  • Lower total air flow means smaller/less expensive filtration.

EXAIR Corporation wants to help you get the most out of your compressed air system. If you’d like to find out more, give me a call.

Russ Bowman, CCASS

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook

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

Air Compressor System photo courtesy of thomasjackson1345 Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Compressed Air Supply Side: What Is A Deliquescent Dryer, And When Would You Use One?

As we head in to the colder months here in Ohio, I will soon be getting my humidifier out of the basement and set up in my bedroom. The dry air that accompanies the onset of winter chaps my lips, cracks the skin on my knuckles, affects my nasal passages, and oftentimes makes me wake up with a sore throat…something I definitely don’t want to happen in the middle of a pandemic! So I put some water vapor in my home’s air, on purpose, to take care of all of that.

Moisture in an industrial compressed air system, however, isn’t good for anything.  It’ll corrode your pipes, get rust in your pneumatic tools, motors, and cylinders, and spit out of your blow off devices, all over whatever you’re using your air to blow off.  Depending on the type of compressor, where, and how, it’s used, there are different types of dryers.  Today, dear reader, we’re taking a look at one of the most basic moisture removal systems: the deliquescent dryer.  The principle of operation is as follows:

  • Deliquescent dryer: how it works (1)
    Incoming compressed air enters near the base, where a form of mechanical separation occurs…the air flows back & forth, around trays of desiccant.  The simple act of changing direction causes a certain amount of free liquid to just fall out and collect in the bottom.
  • The air then flows upwards through the desiccant bed. The desiccant in a deliquescent dryer absorbs moisture (as opposed to the adsorption that occurs in a regenerative desiccant dryer) until they get so wet, they dissolve.
  • The desiccant level has to be monitored (commonly via a sight glass) so it can be replaced as it’s consumed.
  • After the desiccant does its job, moisture free air flows out the top, and gets on with it’s work.

Deliquescent dryers, owing to their simplicity, are the least expensive air dryers.  They have no moving parts and no electricity, so the only maintenance involved is replacing the desiccant media as it’s consumed.  This makes them especially popular in mobile/on-site applications involving portable or tow-behind, engine driven compressors, since they don’t need power to run.

There are several disadvantages, also owing to their simplicity:

  • The deliquescent media has to be periodically replenished.  If you don’t stay on top of it, you can find yourself shut down while you go back to the shop to get a big bag of salt.  That’s time your boss can’t charge your customer for.  Also, the cost of the new media is a continual operating cost of the dryer…something you don’t have to account for with the regenerative desiccant models.
  • Disposal of the waste media can be a concern…you definitely want to check your local environmental regulations before dumping it in the garbage.  Your boss won’t like talking to the EPA about THAT either.
  • They have to be equipped with a particulate filter on the discharge to keep the deliquescent media (which, being a salt, is corrosive in nature) from entering your system.  That would be even worse than water moisture…which this is there to prevent in the first place.
  • They don’t get near as low of a dewpoint as other dryers – the best you can hope for is 20°F to 30°F.  Which is fine, given the above mentioned nature of applications where these are commonly used.  You just wouldn’t want to use them to supply a product like an EXAIR Vortex Tube…which can turn that in to -40°F cold air, causing the water vapor to turn to liquid, and then to ice.  In a hurry.

EXAIR Corporation is in the business of helping you get the most out of your compressed air.  If you want to learn more, please follow our blog.  If you have specific questions, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
Visit us on the Web
Follow me on Twitter
Like us on Facebook


(1) – Deliquescent Dryer Image: VMAC Air Innovated: The Deliquescent Dryer –

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