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

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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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/

 

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