Intelligent Compressed Air: Refrigerant Dryers and How They Work

We’ve seen in recent blogs that Compressed Air Dryers are an important part of a compressed air system, to remove water and moisture to prevent condensation further downstream in the system.  Moisture laden compressed air can cause issues such as increased wear of moving parts due to lubrication removal, formation of rust in piping and equipment, quality defects in painting processes, and frozen pipes in colder climates.  The three main types of dryers are – Refrigerant, Desiccant, and Membrane. For this blog, we will review the basics of the Refrigerant type of dryer.

All atmospheric air that a compressed air system takes in contains water vapor, which is naturally present in the air.  At 75°F and 75% relative humidity, 20 gallons of water will enter a typical 25 hp compressor in a 24 hour period of operation.  When the the air is compressed, the water becomes concentrated and because the air is heated due to the compression, the water remains in vapor form.  Warmer air is able to hold more water vapor, and generally an increase in temperature of 20°F results in a doubling of amount of moisture the air can hold. The problem is that further downstream in the system, the air cools, and the vapor begins to condense into water droplets. To avoid this issue, a dryer is used.

Refrigerated Dryer

Fundamental Schematic of Refrigerant-Type Dryer

Refrigerant Type dryers cool the air to remove the condensed moisture and then the air is reheated and discharged.  When the air leaves the compressor aftercooler and moisture separator (which removes the initial condensed moisture) the air is typically saturated, meaning it cannot hold anymore water vapor.  Any further cooling of the air will cause the moisture to condense and drop out.  The Refrigerant drying process is to cool the air to 35-40°F and then remove the condensed moisture.  The air is then reheated via an air to air heat exchanger (which utilizes the heat of the incoming compressed air) and then discharged.  The dewpoint of the air is 35-40°F which is sufficient for most general industrial plant air applications.  As long as the compressed air stays above the 35-40°F temperature, no further condensation will occur.

The typical advantages of Refrigerated Dryers are-

  1.  – Low initial capital cost
  2.  – Relatively low operating cost
  3.  – Low maintenance costs

If you have questions about getting the most from your compressed air system, or would like to talk about any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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Types Of Compressed Air System Dryers

Many times, when discussing product selection with a customer, we commonly reference supplying as clean and dry air as possible to promote peak performance. In iron piping systems for example, when moisture is present, rust can develop which can reduce the performance of end use compressed air operated devices like air tools or cause issues on the exhaust side as you could exhaust unwanted mist onto a surface, like in a painting operation.

Example of a desiccant dryer

Typically, an efficient and properly installed industrial compressed air system will include some type of dryer to remove any moisture that may be present in the supply.

Let’s take a look at the various types of dryers available.

Refrigerant and desiccant dryers are two of the more commonly used types of dryers.

Refrigerant based systems have several stages. The compressed air first passes through an air to air heat exchanger  which initially cools the air. The air is then delivered to an air to refrigerant exchanger where an external source of liquid refrigerant further cools the air and sends it to a separator, where the water vapors condensate and are removed through a drain trap. Now that the air is dry, it is then cycled back to the air to air exchanger where it is heated back to ambient temperature and exits the system.

Desiccant dryers typically incorporate 2 tanks containing a porous desiccant which causes the moisture to sort of “cling” to the surface. In these systems, compressed air flows through one tank, while, using it’s own regeneration cycle, heated or unheated air is blown through the desiccant in the other tank to remove the moisture and dry the air.

Membrane Dryers are typically used at the end use product. These types of systems utilize membranes to dissipate water vapor as it passes through the material, while allowing a small amount of the dry air to travel the length of the membrane to sort of “wipe” the condensate and remove it from the system.

Deliquescent Dryers use a drying agent which absorbs any moisture in the air. As the vapors react with the desiccant, like salt, the desiccant liquefies and is able to be drained at the bottom of a tank. These are the least expensive dryers to purchase and maintain because they have no moving parts and require no power to run.

When a dryer is being considered for a particular setup, there are 3 common reference points used when determining the dryers rating – an inlet air temperature of 100°F, supply pressure of 100 PSIG and an ambient air temperature of 100°F. Changes in supply pressure or temperature could change the performance of a particular dryer. You want to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when dealing with variances as they will typically provide some type of conversion.

For help with this or any other topics relating to the efficient use of compressed air, please give us a call, we’d be happy to help.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

 

Heated Desiccant Dryers image courtesy of Compressor1 via creative commons license

When things get heated, a Cabinet Cooler can cool things down.

Heated Desiccant Dryer

Many of us have walked into a compressor room.  They are typically a small room that is very warm as it contains an air compressor, a dryer, and other items that create heat.   To help remove the heat, a fan is placed near the ceiling to remove as much heat as possible.  But, when the days get warmer, it makes it more difficult to keep things cool inside the compressor room.  Recently I was working with a pharmaceutical company about the issues with the operation of his dryer.

For this customer, he was using a heated-type regenerative dryer in their facility to get a -40 deg. F dew point.  It was important in their process to have very dry compressed air because it was coming in contact with powders.  As the outside temperatures began to warm up, they started to see alarms and failures with their dryer system.  With a dryer shutdown, they had a potential of water going downstream into their process.  They contacted EXAIR for a solution.

He explained the situation in a bit more detail about his desiccant type dryer.  It had two towers next to each other.  One tower would dry the compressed air while the other tower would be heated to remove any water that was adsorbed by the desiccant.  The control panel was mounted in between the desiccant towers, and it operated the switching valves and heating cycle of the dryer.  When a tower was being regenerated by heat, the ambient temperature around the control panel was getting near 140 deg. F.  With this added heat, the electronics inside would malfunction and shut down the function of the dryer.  They did have a control fan near the ceiling to try and remove the heat from the room, but it was not very effective.  They needed an alternative way to keep the dryer running.  With the location of the control panel between the two towers, there was very little room to work.  He needed something very compact, easy to mount, and effective in maintaining a cool internal temperature.

EXAIR High Temp Cabinet Coolers

In calculating the high ambient heat and the size of the control panel, I recommended the HT4315 High Temperature Cabinet Cooler System.  It is able to handle the high ambient conditions from 125 – 200 deg. F.  With a dimension of 1.34” diameter and a length of 8”, this compact design had no problem fitting onto the panel between the towers.  Even with this small design, the model HT4315 had plenty of cooling capacity to keep the electronics inside from overheating, eliminating the concern with their dryer system shutting down.

To mount this Cabinet Cooler System, a 1 1/8” knock-out hole in the cabinet and a small wire connection hole for the thermostat are the main steps.  This makes it fast and easy to install onto the panel to start getting the cold air to  the electronics.  With a thermostat control, it will only operate the Cabinet Cooler during high temperature conditions, making the system very effective.  The design of the Cabinet Coolers has no moving parts, no motors, no Freon or condensers to clean.  Once they are installed, they are maintenance and worry-free.

If you wish not to have failures in your compressor room during the hot months, a Cabinet Cooler System can be the correct product for you.  If you need help in sizing, you can fill out the EXAIR Cabinet Cooler Sizing form and send it in to us.  For my customer mentioned above, the integrity of their compressed air system was sustained to keep their production process running smoothly.

 

John Ball
Application Engineer

Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

Heated Desiccant Dryer by Compressor1.  Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Compressed Air and Dew Point

Today’s discussion is on dew point of air as it has a significant impact on a compressed air system. The dew point is the temperature at which the water vapor in the air  can no longer stay in a vapor form, and condenses from a vapor into a liquid. The amount of water vapor contained in air is directly proportional to its temperature. The warmer the air the more space there is between molecules thus it is able to hold more water vapor.Capture

It is when air temperature drops below the dew point that issues develop in a compressed air system. Let’s take the example of a warm summer day at 90 F and 50% relative humidity. From the chart we see the dew point temperature to be 70 F. So at night, when all the equipment is shut down and the temperatures drop into the 60’s, water will condensate throughout the entire system. In the morning when the equipment is turned on, water blows through sensitive valving.

Compressing air will increase the dew point. Hot compressed air exiting the compressor and cooling while it makes its way through distribution systems is one reason for condensate in compressed air lines. Drying the compressed air is recommended to reduce or eliminate water condensate problems in a compressed air system.

There are several methods to dry out your compressed air. Each have their advantages and disadvantages. The following short review of the various options will help you decide which is best for your application.

After-coolers

The compressor’s after-cooler  which looks similar to a car’s radiator or the condenser in an air conditioner, is the first step to dryer air. It is placed at the compressor’s air outlet and uses either ambient air or water to cool the compressed air and condense some of the water vapor into a liquid that can be removed with a water separator.

The simplicity of design is a positive. The negative is that it can never cool below ambient but something above ambient depending on its capacity. After-cooler performance is rated by approach temperature, which is how closely the compressed air leaving the after-cooler will approach the temperature of the cooling medium used.

For example, if an air-cooled after-cooler is rated for a 10°F approach temperature, and the temperature of the ambient air is 90°F, the temperature of the air leaving the after-cooler will be 100°F. Assuming 50% relative humidity day the dew point will be 80 F.

Mechanical Water Separators

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Wet compressed air enters the separator and passes through a set of vanes that spins it in a vortex. Centrifugal force causes liquid to fly out of the compressed air stream and run down the inside of the filter bowl, where it can be drained off. These are installed at the point of use as a final defense before entering sensitive compressed air equipment. They are an inexpensive assurance of quality air. The ones EXAIR has also include a sintered bronze filter element to remove dirt and scale as well as water.

Deliquescent Dryer

A deliquescent dryer is basically a tank full of salt tablets. As the compressed air passes through the salt, the salt attracts water and dissolves into a brine that can be drained off. These are the least expensive dryers to purchase and maintain because they have no moving parts and require no power to run. The operating cost consists of the cost of more salt tablets.

Desiccant Air Dryers

These are similar to the deliquescent driers except they use a desiccant that attracts water but holds it. When they have reached their saturation limit they are either replaced or regenerated in one of three methods.

Operating cost of these dryers varies with the method used to remove water from or regenerate the desiccant.

Heatless regenerative dryers take a portion (about 15%) of the dry compressed air leaving the dryer and passes it through the desiccant to absorb the moisture out of it. Purchase cost economical but operational costs are high because if all the compressed air used to dry out the desiccant.

Heated purge regenerative dryers take advantage of the fact that hot air can hold more water than cold air. These dryers take about 5% of the dry compressed air leaving the dryer and pass it through an electric heater and then sends it through the wet desiccant bed. This dryer cost more than the heat less dryer but is offset by using half the compressed of that used by the heat less dryer.

Blower Purge Dryers

These are similar in concept to the had dryers found in restrooms but on a larger scale. Heated air is sent trough the desiccant with a blower. These are not quite as efficient because they are heating up ambient air which would not be as dry as compressed air.

Membrane Air Dryers

These dryers use pass the compressed air through a membrane with pores large enough to allow air molecules through but not large enough to allow water molecules through. The lower a dew point is needed, the more purge air is required. These

Refrigerated Air Dryers

Is an A/C system that refrigerate  the compressed air as close to freezing as possible in order to condense out as much water as possible then use a mechanical water separators to remove the condensed water. They require electricity to operate along with the associated cost of operation and maintenance.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding on how to qualify your compressed air.

Feel free to contact me at any time with questions or concerns, or if I can be of any further assistance. I genuinely appreciate the opportunity! 1-800-903-9247 or click on the live chat icon in the upper left hand corner.

Joe Panfalone

Application Engineer
Phone (513) 671-3322
Fax (513) 671-3363
Web: http://www.exair.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/exair_jp
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