How to avoid microorganisms in compressed air?

Compressed air has various uses across many different industries, such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, as well as food and beverage companies. However, if the air becomes contaminated with foreign microorganisms, this can become problematic and potentially cause adverse knock-on effects down the assembly line, ultimately reaching the consumer. 

Microorganisms are microscopic living organisms that can enter the compressed air system under certain conditions. They can cause problems like product spoilage, equipment damage, and health hazards. Contaminated compressed air can lead to costly recalls, damage to brand reputation, and legal liability.

A few factors contribute to the presence of microorganisms in a compressed air system, such as air intake quality and environmental conditions. For instance, high humidity, warm temperatures, and hindered airflow can give the perfect environment for these organisms to thrive within the system.  

To prevent contamination, proactive measures must be taken to ensure that compressed air systems are kept free from microorganism contamination. This article provides an overview of critical factors that contribute to microorganism growth in compressed air systems and practical steps that can be taken to avoid these contaminants, maintaining clean, safe, and reliable compressed air.

Understanding Microorganism Growth in Compressor Installations

Microorganisms need specific conditions, such as moisture and appropriate temperatures, to grow and reproduce. Unfortunately for us, compressed air systems can often provide these ideal conditions, which can result in these organisms thriving within the system. 

To avoid microbial contamination, temperature and moisture levels must be continually monitored. This way, you can detect potential problems before they become significant issues. 

It is also essential to avoid the different types of contaminations that can occur within your compressed air system. Bacteria, mould, and viruses are all potential culprits, so having a comprehensive understanding of these organisms is crucial, or consult an expert to work with you through the manufacturing process. 

By understanding these different types of microorganisms, targeted prevention and control measures can be developed to maintain the safety and quality of the compressed air coils you supply.

Strategies to Inhibit Microorganism Growth in Compressed Air Systems

So as you can see, taking precautionary steps in controlling your compressed air environment is necessary for many industries. It’s first advised to start with a new compressor. Anglian compressors provide industry-leading Atlas Copco air compressors.

Controlling Moisture & Temperature

With moisture and warm temperature being the ideal environment for these microorganisms, start by controlling the specific relative humidity, moisture and temperature within your compressed air systems. 

This can be achieved by using air dryers and aftercoolers, which reduce the moisture content, differential pressure and temperature of the compressed air.

Using air dryers and aftercoolers

Air dryers and aftercoolers are commonly used to remove moisture from compressed air. An aftercooler cools the compressed air, causing the moisture to condense and separate from the air. The condensed moisture can then be removed from the system. 

Air dryers further reduce the moisture content of the compressed air by using various technologies such as refrigeration, desiccant, and membrane.

Selecting the appropriate drying technology for your needs

Different drying technologies are suitable for specific applications, and selecting the appropriate temperature heat drying technology for your needs is crucial. For example, refrigeration dryers are effective in applications with high ambient temperatures, while desiccant dryers are suitable for applications that require extremely dry compressed air.

Effective Filtration for Compressed Air Quality

Filtration is another essential strategy to inhibit microorganism growth. It involves using filters to remove contaminants from the compressed air, including microorganisms, dust, and oil.

Importance of multiple filters

Multiple filters are usually required to achieve the desired level of compressed air purity. The filters are typically arranged in a sequence, each removing a specific type of contaminant. 

A pre-filter can remove large particles and oil, while a coalescing filter can remove smaller particles and water droplets. Start with a broad filter and work toward a 0.3 micro HEPA filter. 

Maintaining and replacing filters regularly

It’s essential to regularly change the system’s filters to ensure they continually function at 100%. Over time the filters become clogged with contaminants, so replacing them often is vital. 

Changing the filters every 2000 hours of usage is recommended, but it is advised to check what the manufacturer states. 

Regular Testing of Compressed Air

Regular testing of compressed air is necessary to monitor the quality of the compressed air and detect any microorganisms present.

Testing for bacteria, mould, and fungi

Testing for bacteria, fungi, and viruses involves taking air samples from different locations in the compressed air system and analysing them for the presence of microorganisms. Samples can be taken using specialised sampler plates that catch any contaminations and allow you to run tests to identify if anything unwanted is present. 

Consulting with compressed air testing experts for suitable testing methods

To conduct the testing, you will need an expert to analyse the samples within a lab. These experts can take two types of samples, active and passive. They will be able to guide you on the best process to take and put a plan in place for you moving forward. 

Addressing Compressed Air Leaks

Compressed air leaks not only waste energy, but the compression process can also provide entry points for potential contaminants. Therefore addressing these atmospheric air leaks early is imperative.

Identifying and fixing leaks

You must conduct regular leak detection surveys to identify and fix leaks. The most common way to detect leaks is by using an ultrasonic acoustic detector which recognises high-frequency hissing, caused by the leak.

You can buy these for around £40 online or in local construction stores, but of course, we’d suggest having an Anglian engineer visit your site and conduct this test for you.

Optimising the Compressor Environment

In addition to controlling airflow, moisture and ambient temperature, optimising the compressor environment can inhibit and prevent microorganism growth.

Placing compressors in cool, dry locations

Placing compressors in cool, dry locations can help prevent the growth of microorganisms. High temperatures and relative humidity in a humid environment can promote the development of microorganisms, so placing compressors in well-ventilated and cool areas can reduce these conditions.

Minimising conditions that favour microorganism growth

Minimising conditions that favour microorganism growth in the compressor environment is also essential. This includes ensuring proper ventilation and cleaning the compressor regularly.

Additionally, any spills or leaks should be cleaned up promptly to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

How to avoid microorganisms in compressed air?
Water drains

Industry-Specific Compressed Air System Considerations

It’s worth noting that certain industry-specific considerations must be implemented, especially regarding food & beverage companies and the pharmaceutical industry.

You can find the food & beverage compressed system air requirements and pharmaceutical compressed system air requirements here. 

If you need a high-quality compressor with low chances of contamination, then Anglian compressors are your best choice. 

We have a range of different industrial air compressors to suit your specific needs. 

Contact us below.