What Are Membrane Air Dryers?
Compressed air generated for industrial use is usually associated with significant amounts of water vapor that can damage sensitive components and alter product quality. Membrane air dryers can eliminate excess moisture from compressed air, making them suitable for industrial use. This article will explain how they work and highlight major differences with other instrument air dryer types.
Membrane Air Dryers Defined
What are membrane air dryers? How do they work? What are their applications? How are they different from other options like desiccants? Let’s start with the basics.
Membrane air dryers are a type of industrial dehydration equipment that eliminates water suspended in compressed air using a selectively permeable membrane. This separation membrane is composed of microtubules that retain water when air is circulated through them. A stream of “wet” compressed air is passed through the membrane leading to water retention with a “dry” stream of air emerging from an outlet on the other side of the membrane dryer.
Membrane Air Dryers vs. Desiccant Dryers
A common comparison is membrane air dryers vs. desiccant air dryers. While these two low-energy utility dryers achieve similar rates of compressed air dehydration, they differ significantly in their mechanisms. As earlier stated, membrane dryers remove water from compressed air by channeling it through a selectively permeable membrane that retains water.
By comparison, a desiccant air dryer uses hygroscopic material contained within drying towers to achieve air dehydration. The usual setup is two drying towers that alternate between air drying and desiccant regeneration phases. This equipment comes with timers, alarms, and indicators to alert the operators when to switch phases for the towers. While desiccant air drying can be a low-energy process, heated variants of the dryer may use substantial quantities of electrical energy to regenerate desiccant material.
Membrane Air Dryers vs. Refrigerated Dryers
Membrane dryers are low-energy usage processes that physically separate moisture from compressed air using a semi-permeable membrane. In contrast, refrigerated air dryers utilize the principle of water precipitation to achieve moisture removal.
A refrigerated air dryer reduces the temperature of a stream of dry air to a level where the water vapor it contains condenses and drops into a receptacle. Refrigerated dryers come in cycling and non-cycling variants, with the latter being the more energy-efficient version.
Membrane Air Dryer Applications
Membrane dryers are currently being used in several industrial processes, including the following:
- Pharmaceutical manufacturing
- Oil and gas exploration
- Fabric/material processing
- Food and beverage processing
- Mold inhibition
Synthetic medication manufacturing is a delicate business requiring very exact conditions to achieve potent formulations. While compressed air is critical to several drug manufacturing setups, excess moisture will alter the chemical reactions leading to disastrous consequences. Membrane air dryers will maintain a moisture-free environment for optimal productivity.
Oil and Gas Exploration
Oil and gas industry operators use dry compressed air to drive several of their exploration efforts. As a result, dedicated air-drying systems are often integrated with air compression units. This ensures a steady supply of dry, pressurized air to gas recovery, refining, and transportation processes.
The production of synthetic fabrics and other valuable materials on an industrial scale requires large quantities of moisture-free compressed air. Membrane dryers play an integral role in providing high purity air needed to drive these processes.
Food and Beverage Processing
Processing, packing, and preserving several commercially available food items require large volumes of properly dried compressed air. Further, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage makers use compressed air in their processes to improve the flavor and quality of the brew. In these examples mentioned above, membrane air dyers will eliminate moisture that negatively impacts final product quality.
Industrial environments are often prone to moisture accumulation, encouraging mold growth within and around their equipment. The use of membrane air dryers, especially with compressed air systems, will eliminate moisture and discourage mold growth that can damage delicate equipment and cause worker and consumer safety concerns.
Membrane Air Dryer Benefits
There are several benefits to utilizing membrane air dryers in industrial air compressors. The most commonly cited benefits are highlighted below:
- Low energy usage: Membrane air dryers do not require electricity to operate. Once set up, they only require routine maintenance, making them very cost-effective.
- Flexible Siting: Membrane air dryers can be used in almost any industrial space and location as they do not require additional energy to operate.
- Highly efficient: Membrane air dryers contain a carefully designed selective membrane that permits the very efficient removal of water vapor from a stream of compressed air, resulting in high purity air.
- Noiseless: This variant of air dryers runs noiselessly, making it suitable for use in processing plants where stringent noise level regulations are in place. More importantly, the noiseless nature of membrane air dryers substantially diminishes the long-term risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
Choosing the Right Industrial Partner
At NiGen, we offer a broad base of industrial air-drying solutions to a diverse clientele. Our air-drying systems are carefully built to suit various process requirements. With experienced and helpful staff always available to discuss your needs, we are confident we will find the right air dryer for you! Contact us online today or call 713.352.7169 to learn more!