Best Practices for Compressed Air during a Lockdown

By: Wayne Perry

While we have not received questions about SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, in compressed air systems, our friends at the British Compressed Air Society (BCAS) have. You can find the article they published at this link:

https://www.ipesearch.co.uk/BCAS-urges-best-practice-maintained

The inquiries they were getting concerned the chance that the virus could be taken into the compressor and distributed through the system, emerging at the end use. The fact is, the compression process is physically violent and very hot. Oil-flooded rotary screw compressors typically operate in a temperature range of 180°F to 210°F. Oil-free and piston compressors typically create temperatures above 300°F. The World Health Organization says that most SARS-CoV-2 viruses become inactive (dead) in a temperature range of between 133°F and 149°F and all become inactive around 197°F. Although there have been no tests on the virus exposed to compressor lubricants, it is likely that the solvents in those lubricants would also contribute to eliminating the viability of the virus.

BCAS refers to a number of technical publications concerning proper filtration and cleanliness of compressed air. They also point out that the air should be dried to a -40°C dew point to desiccate any pathogen that may be in the system. That dew point recommendation is primarily for sterile air systems where bacteria might enter the system when tanks are being inspected or filters changed.

Their key conclusion is:

“Ambient air contaminants would have to remain in aerosol form to pass through panel and intake filters in order to enter the compressor intake. This is highly unlikely, but even if panel and intake filtration was compromised, the contaminant would not remain in aerosol form during compression and therefore, would present no danger.

This is because during compression, the air temperature is high (in excess of 120°C) and the heating time is short, meaning that viruses do not tend to survive the compression process.”

Kaeser is keeping up with any changes in this situation and will update this if needed.

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