| I was out in the garage today spray painting, a job I would have preferred to have done outdoors, but alas, it was raining. It wasn’t a big job, and I probably didn’t spend more than about an hour doing it, but by the time I was done I was all too aware of how noxious the chemical fumes were that were put out by my aerosol spray can. I had thought that with all the garage doors open and a good cross breeze going through I’d be spared the unpleasant smell. Now imagine this all on a much larger scale, say an industrial setting, where massive spray painters are used all day long.
We’ve been talking for awhile now about filtration, from fabric filters to cyclones, and how they are most effective when integrated into a local exhaust ventilation system. These filtration devices are great for the removal of airborne particles like dust, but they don’t do a good job removing chemical vapors like paint fumes, much in the same way as a dust mask wouldn’t have made my spray painting job any less smelly. This week we’ll focus on filtration capable of addressing the special challenges presented by chemical vapors in the air.
Chemical vapor contaminants can be separated from good air trapped in a local exhaust ventilation system by way of an air cleaner in a process known as absorption. In this instance, just like with our smelly goldfish tank, the media can consist of activated carbon, a carbon created by intense heating of substances like bituminous coal, wood, or coconut shell. The heat removes everything except carbon and creates myriads of tiny pores throughout. These pores give activated carbon tremendous surface area, meaning lots of nooks and crannies for chemical molecules to get lodged in. And when I say “lots” of nooks and crannies, I mean it. One pound of granular activated carbon has enough pores to give it a surface area of 125 acres! As the air-vapor mixture passes over the huge surface area, chemical vapors are absorbed by combining chemically with the carbon. Jamb packing surface area into a small space, as activated carbon does, creates a media capable of absorbing vast amounts of chemical molecules for a long time. As effective as this system is, the carbon pores will eventually become saturated with contaminants, and when it does, it is easily addressed. Simply replace the media with fresh carbon.
Another means of removing harmful vapors from the air is through the use of an air cleaner employing temperature as its means of filtration. I’ll bet you’re asking how that works, and here’s an example you can relate to. It’s a hot, humid day, and the only thing standing between you and total discomfort is a glass of ice water. As you eagerly lift the glass to your lips, you notice the glass is wet on the outside, so wet that it’s actually dripping. In the stupor caused by your heat exhaustion you may for a moment think that the glass is actually leaking, but you soon realize that the water has accumulated on the outside of the glass because the hot, humid air that is making you so uncomfortable has also come into contact with the cold surface of the glass. When the water vapor in the atmosphere hits the cool of the glass filled with ice, it condenses into droplets. This condensation process stops when the glass temperature equalizes to that of the temperature in the surrounding air. Air cleaners can make use of the same phenomenon to filter contaminants. In their case the contaminated air mixture is cooled to the point where the humidity and chemical vapors present condense together to form a liquid, and the liquid is then drained out for proper disposal.
That’s it for our look at filters and air cleaners. To sum things up, remember that there are a variety of factors that have to be considered when selecting filters and air cleaning devices. These include the volume of air flowing through the system, the concentration of contaminants in the air, the chemical and physical properties of the contaminants, the hazards associated with the contaminants, and the emissions standards established by federal, state, and local environmental regulations.
Next time we’ll explore the workhorse of a local exhaust ventilation system, its fan.
Posts Tagged ‘mechanical separator’
My wife is an aquarist, meaning she keeps aquariums. Three of them. Each contains a different variety of fish housed within its own unique liquid environment. One of these is a 35 gallon tank containing three goldfish. These fish have two unique characteristics that make them especially noteworthy, they are extremely hardy and extremely dirty. Hardly a week can go by between tank changes before the water quality starts to deteriorate, evidenced by cloudy, stinky water. It’s the kind of stink that makes a passerby in the area exclaim, “Who used the bathroom and didn’t turn on the exhaust fan!” Thank goodness for activated carbon. With its proper placement inside the aquarium’s filtration system a cleaner, fresher environment is delivered, both to fish inside the tank and the humans who watch them from outside. Put the carbon in the wrong compartment, however, and the water quality plummets back to its original fetid state within a matter of days.
As is true with the proper care of goldfish, it is often necessary within an industrial environment to remove contaminants before the air that contains them is once again dispersed into the general environment. This is where filters and air cleaners come in. They’re generally placed inside the ductwork, somewhere between the hood and fan. Their job is to ensure a good, clean outcome, usually through an external exhaust of some sort. Local exhaust ventilation systems begin with a precisely positioned hood at the source of contamination and end with an exhaust stack located outside the building. Some airborne contaminants being released from the stack are deemed unsafe for the environment, and outdoor air quality standards promulgated by state and federal Environmental Protection Agencies limit their release back into the atmosphere. For this reason the proper use of filtration and air cleaners is crucial.
Airborne contaminants are in the form of dusts and vapors. If the issue to be addressed comes in the form of dust, then filters and mechanical separators are commonly used. Filters, like the atmospheric conditions they are meant to address, come in many configurations. They are typically positioned within the local exhaust ventilation system ductwork, as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1 – Local Exhaust Ventilation System With Filter
The fan draws in air and dust through the strategically positioned hood, located at the source of contamination, then follows a course through ductwork, passing through a filter along the way. The filter contains media with holes tiny enough to allow for air to pass through, but small enough to stop dust particles. The cleaned air is then drawn out of the filter by a fan, which finally exhausts it into an externally positioned stack.
Next time we’ll continue our discussion on filtration devices by examining a cyclone. And no, I don’t mean the famous vacuum cleaner, although the methodology is similar.