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Microorganism Contamination in Compressed Air Systems

Clean, dry compressed air is key to maintaining an efficient and productive process. On the flip side, one thing that can quickly derail an efficient process is contamination within your compressed air supply caused by microorganism growth. As you might have guessed, microorganisms like bacteria and fungi within your compressed air system can be extremely dangerous, compromising the integrity of your applications and contaminating your end-product. This is especially significant in the medical, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries, where the presence of microorganisms can have disastrous results. Let’s learn more about the why microorganisms could be living within your compressed air supply, as well as how to decrease/prevent their future growth.

Why Can Microorganism Grow in Compressor Installations?

The easy answer? When compressed, air becomes very warm and humid, and microorganisms thrive in these environments! Under the right conditions, microorganisms (including mold, yeast, and bacteria) will grow and multiple in your compressor system, which has a negative impact on your air quality and end products. If you want to inhibit the growth of these, the best thing you can do is to create an environment that makes it difficult for them to survive.

Did You Know? Viruses have a protein coat and a core of genetic material. Unlike bacteria, viruses can not survive without a host. This means that viruses like SARS-CoV-2 will not survive or grow in a compressed air system.

How Can I Prevent the Growth of Microorganisms in My Compressor System?

It’s not enough to only understand that microorganisms can grow in compressed air; you need to have a plan to not only treat the existing microorganism contamination, but to reduce/prevent additional growth. Here are five actions that you can take to inhibit their growth:

  1. Avoid Moisture. Air dryers and aftercoolers are two pieces of equipment that help keep your compressed air dry. Dryers (available as both integrated and standalone units) work to remove water from the compressed air. Depending on the application’s purity requirements, you can use either a refrigerated dryer or desiccant dryer; desiccant dryers are able to dry the air to a super-dry level, which may be more effective in preventing the growth of microorganisms. Aftercoolers operate in a similar manner and are placed directly behind the compressor, working to remove condensation that would otherwise travel throughout the system.
  2. Filtration is Key. Make sure to use numerous filters throughout your compressor installation! It’s important to ensure the compressor filters are well-maintained and to change them on a regular basis, as these can be ideal environments for microorganism growth. Pro tip: don’t rely on visual filter inspections to determine when you should change filters, as microorganisms are invisible to our eyes! Instead, replace these at predetermined time frames.
  3. Test Your Compressed Air. Want to make sure your compressed air is clean? Regularly test it for the presence of microorganisms, including bacteria, mold, and fungi. There are a variety of tests available, so we recommend contacting a trusted compressed air expert to discuss which one is best suited for your facility.

    Treat Compressed Air Leaks. All compressed air installations have leaks. These not only can cost your business greatly in terms of energy but are also ideal spots for contaminants to be introduced and start circulating throughout your compressor system. Fixing leaks not only decrease the amount of locations where contaminants can enter, but also increases the energy efficiency of your system.

  4. Compressor Environment. While not always possible, try to place your compressor in a location that is cool and dry. This will help inhibit the growth of those pesky microorganisms!

Want to discuss this with our team of compressed air experts? Visit us at www.atlascopco.com/air-usa!