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The effects of climate change on compressed air

Expert interview: Is your compressed air system ready for climate change?

Hardly a week goes by without the media reporting on the effects of climate change. Sometimes it is heavy rainfall that causes flooding, sometimes it is the clearly visible Saharan dust that affects cars or the scientifically proven melting of glaciers and polar ice caps. To what extent do these observations and phenomena affect compressed air generation and treatment? Is there anything that needs to be taken into account here? Christina Büttner from the editorial team talks to Oliver Kiehn, Key Account Manager North, and Wolfgang Dames, Sales Manager DACH Region North/West, about precisely this topic.

  • Mr. Kiehn, what specific effects have you observed in compressed air treatment during the summer months in recent years?

Oliver Kiehn: "From May/June and in the following summer months, we have been able to observe for years how the climate has a direct impact on compressed air treatment. These are usually the first really warm days, when there are often heavy thunderstorms or rainfall with very high humidity, which is exactly when devices that have been working well for years simply can no longer cope with the demands.

Here are four typical situations:

  • The rising temperatures put a much greater strain on refrigeration dryers in particular. The set pressure dew point can then often no longer be maintained, which leads to more humid compressed air and causes problems in the various production processes, such as clumping and corrosion. Older refrigeration dryers and those that are not designed with enough reserve for rising temperatures are particularly affected. Most dryers display a pressure dew point of 3° C, but this is only the target value. In reality, the compressed air leaves the dryer with a significantly higher pressure dew point, i.e. more humid air. 
  • The increased humidity in the atmosphere is eliminated from the compressed air by functioning water separators and dryers, which then leads to an increase in the amount of condensate. This happens particularly on humid days or after thunderstorms and can lead to an overload of the condensate drains and oil/water separators, which then often overflow and the condensate can enter the waste water system untreated.
  • Saharan dust not only leaves ugly marks on the cars, but also puts additional strain on the filters, which leads to increased differential pressure and thus to higher energy requirements.
  • As outside temperatures rise, the intake temperature of the compressor also increases, which in turn can lead to an increase in oil vapor in the compressed air and thus cause problems in downstream processes."
  • Mr. Dames, with your many years of experience, how do you see the challenges in the design of compressors and other components for compressed air treatment, taking climate change into account?

Wolfgang Dames: "Key decisions are already made when designing the compressors and the various components for compressed air treatment. They are usually based on the 30-year-old so-called "standard values" and certain climate zones. Of course, this works well for average days. But we have noticed that climate change is particularly noticeable through extreme values on individual days. And this is precisely when the "standard" interpretation is no longer sufficient. If other effects such as a lack of maintenance are added to this, there is not much left before important components fail, sometimes with fatal consequences."

  • Mr. Kiehn, what do you recommend your customers to avoid such unexpected problems?

Oliver Kiehn: "Many of our customers are experts in their respective fields but not in compressed air treatment. They simply expect to be able to rely on their compressed air system. We therefore offer them a 12-point check tailored precisely to these requirements, in which we use our expertise to check the most important points and measure meaningful values. From this, we can then derive a neutral risk assessment with recommendations. We see this offer as a service for our customers and carry it out free of charge."

  • Mr. Dames, BEKO TECHNOLOGIES is active in various working groups such as the VDMA. Are the standard requirements being reassessed there in light of climate change?

Wolfgang Dames: "These standard requirements are more of an orientation aid or recommendation for the design. It is much more important how the suppliers work with them. For example, if you want to submit the cheapest offer, you interpret the values very generously. This often works well for a long time, but on special days like the one we are experiencing again in early summer, it may no longer be enough. If customers attach importance to high process reliability, they will design with more reserves and, if necessary, add suitable measurement technology in order to have full transparency about the current situation at all times and to be able to trigger an alarm if necessary. Other customers primarily focus on their energy efficiency, e.g. to achieve CO2 neutrality in their operations by 2030. They will then take a closer look at the technology used and switch to particularly energy-efficient adsorption dryers instead of refrigeration dryers with refrigerants, for example."

  • Christina Büttner: Thank you very much, Mr. Kiehn and Mr. Dames, for these informative insights and recommendations.