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
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6 Basic Steps for Good Air Compressor Maintenance (And When to Do Them)

A production equipment mechanic with the 76th Maintenance Group, takes meter readings of the oil pressure and temperature, cooling water temperature and the output temperature on one of two 1,750 horsepower compressors. (Air Force photo by Ron Mullan)

In one of my previous jobs, I was responsible for the operation of the facility.  One of my biggest responsibilities was the air compressor because it supplied pressurized air though out the facility to feed the pneumatic systems.  Like with many industries, the compressor system is the life blood of the company.  If the compressor fails, the whole facility will stop.  In this blog, I will share some preventative maintenance items and schedules for your air compressors.

Because the cost to make compressed air is so expensive, compressed air systems are considered to be a fourth utility.  And with any important investment, you would like to keep it operating as long and efficiently as possible.  To do this, it is recommended to get your air compressor a “checkup” every so often.  I will cover some important items to check as well as a recommended schedule for checking.  Depending on the size of your air compressors, some items may or may not apply.

1. Intake filter:  The intake filter is used to clean the air that is being drawn into the air compressor.  Particles can damage the air pump mechanisms, so it is important to have the proper filtration level.  But, as the intake filter builds up with debris, the pressure drop will increase.  If they are not properly monitored and cleaned, the air flow will be restricted.  This can cause the motors to operate harder and hotter as well as reduce the efficiency of the air compressor.

2. Compressor Oil:  This would be for flooded screws and reciprocating compressors that use oil to operate the air pump.  Most systems will have an oil sight gauge to verify proper levels.  In larger systems, the oil can be checked for acidity which will tell you the level at which the oil is breaking down.  The oil, like in your car, has to be changed after so many hours of operation.  This is critical to keep the air pump running smoothly without service interruptions.

3. Belts and Couplings:  These items transmit the power from the motor to the air pump.  Check their alignment, condition, and tension (belts only) as specified by the manufacturer.  You should have spares on hand in case of any failures.

4. Air/Oil Separators:  This filter removes as much oil from the compressed air before it travels downstream.  It returns the oil back to the sump of the air compressor.  If the Air/Oil Separator builds too much pressure drop or gets damaged, excess oil will travel downstream.  Not only will the air pump lose the required oil level, but it will also affect the performance of downstream parts like your air dryer and after cooler.

5. Internal filters:  Some air compressors will come with an attached refrigerated air dryer.   With these types of air compressors, they will place coalescing filters to remove any residual oil.  These filters should be checked for pressure drop.  If the pressure drop gets too high, then it will rob your compressed air system of air pressure.  Some filters come with a pressure drop indicator which can help you to determine the life of the internal filter element.

6. Unloader valve:  When an air compressor unloads, this valve will help to remove any compressed air that is trapped in the cavity of the air pump.  So, when the air compressor restarts, it does not have to “work” against this “trapped” air pressure.  If they do not fully unload, the air compressor will have to work much harder to restart, wasting energy.

Preventative maintenance is very important, and checks need to be performed periodically.  As for a schedule, I created a rough sequence to verify, change, or clean certain items that are important to your air compressor.  You can also check with your local compressor representative for a more detailed maintenance schedule.


  • After stopping, remove any condensate from the receiver tank.
  • Check oil level.


  • Inspect cooling fins on air pump. Clean if necessary
  • Inspect oil cooler. Clean if necessary


  • Inspect the inlet air filter. Clean or replace if necessary.
  • Check the belt for tension and cracks. Tighten or replace.
  • Check differential pressure indicators on outlet compressed air filters.


  • Replace Air Inlet Filter
  • Replace the air-oil separator
  • Test safety valves and unloader valve
  • Replace compressed air filters
  • Change oil
  • Grease bearings if required

Keeping your air compressor running optimally is very important for pneumatic operations and energy savings.  I shared some important information above to assist.  Another area to check would be your pneumatic system downstream of the air compressor.  EXAIR manufactures engineered products that can reduce air consumption rates.  You can contact an Application Engineer to discuss further on how we can save you energy, money, and your air compressor.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


About Compressed Air Dryers – What Are They and Why Use Them

All atmospheric air contains some amount of water vapor.  When air is then cooled to saturation point, the vapor will begin to condense into liquid water. The saturation point is the condition where the the air can hold no more water vapor. The temperature at which this occurs is knows as the dew point.

When ambient air is compressed, heat is generated and the air becomes warmer. In industrial compressed air systems, the air is then routed to an aftercooler, and condensation  begins to take place. To remove the condensation, the air then goes into separator which traps the liquid water. The air leaving the aftercooler is typically saturated at the temperature of the discharge, and any additional cooling that occurs as the air is piped further downstream will cause more liquid to condense out of the air. To address this condensation, compressed air dryers are used.

It is important to dry the air and prevent condensation in the air. Many usages of the compressed air are impacted by liquid water being present. Rust and corrosion can occur in the compressed air piping, leading to scale and contamination at point -of -use processes. Processes such as drying operations and painting would see lower quality if water was deposited onto the parts.


There are many types of dryers – (see recent blogs for more information)

  • Refrigerant Dryer – most commonly used type, air is cooled in an air-to-refrigerant heat exchanger.
  • Regenerative-Desiccant Type – use a porous desiccant that adsorbs (adsorb means the moisture adheres to the desiccant, the desiccant does not change, and the moisture can then be driven off during a regeneration process).
  • Deliquescent Type – use a hygroscopic desiccant medium that absorbs (as opposed to adsorbs) moisture. The desiccant is dissolved into the liquid that is drawn out. Desiccant is used up, and needs to be replaced periodically.
  • Heat of Compression Type – are regenerative desiccant dryers that use the heat generated during compression to accomplish the desiccant regeneration.
  • Membrane Type– use special membranes that allow the water vapor to pass through faster than the dry air, reducing the amount water vapor in air stream.

The air should not be dried any more than is needed for the most stringent application, to reduce the costs associated with the drying process. A pressure dew point of 35°F to 38°F (1.7°C to 3.3°C) often is adequate for many industrial applications.  Lower dew points result in higher operating costs.

If you have questions about compressed air systems and dryers or any of the 15 different EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product lines, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
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Intelligent Compressed Air: Membrane Dryers – What are they and How Do they Work?

Recently we have blogged about Compressed Air Dryers and the different types of systems.  We have reviewed the Desiccant and Refrigerant types of dryers, and today I will discuss the basics of  the Membrane type of dryers.

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.

Membrane Dryers are the newest type of compressed air dryer. Membranes are commonly used to separate gases, such as removing nitrogen from air. The membrane consists of a group of hollow fiber tubes.  The tubes are designed so that water vapor will permeate and pass through the membrane walls faster than the air.  The dry air continues on through the tubes and discharges into the downstream air system. A small amount of ‘sweep’ air is taken from the dry air to purge and remove the water vapor from inside the dryer that has passed through the membrane tubes.

Membrane Dryer
Typical Membrane Dryer Arrangement

Resultant dew points of 40°F are typical, and dew points down to -40°F are possible but require the use of more purge air, resulting in less final dry compressed air discharging to the system.

The typical advantages of Membrane Dryers are-

  1.  Low installation and operating costs
  2.  Can be installed outdoors
  3.  Can be used in hazardous locations
  4.  No moving parts

There are a few disadvantages to consider-

  1. Limited to low capacity systems
  2. High purge air losses (as high as 15-20% to achieve lowest pressure dew points
  3. Membrane can be fouled by lubricants and other contaminants, a coalescing type filter is required before the membrane dryer.

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




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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Twitter: @EXAIR_BB


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


Heated Desiccant Dryers image courtesy of Compressor1 via creative commons license

EXAIR Helps Pharmaceutical Company with Cabinet Cooler System

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

Twitter: @EXAIR_jb


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