L&W Compressors

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Can Nitrox or Trimix be run through a breathing air compressor?

Air entrainment blending systems mix oxygen, and sometimes helium, with the intake air of the compressor to generate the desired breathing gas. Nitrox generation systems that enrich air with oxygen by removing nitrogen using a membrane filter are safer and less labor intensive than handling the high-pressure oxygen used in partial pressure blending. However, the oxygen enriched air Nitrox from both entrainment and membrane systems still has to be compressed.

We've operated various types of Nitrox systems for many years, so we know first hand the deleterious effect Nitrox has on compressors. We can tell you that accelerated oxidation associated with compressing Nitrox causes the lubricant, seals, and filtration to all degrade more rapidly than with ordinary air. It can also cause varnishes and carbon deposits to build up more rapidly on the cooling coils and stage valves, increasing operating temperatures and decreasing the compressor output volume.

Compressing Nitrox requires routine maintenance to be performed more often, necessitating more down time. Contamination of the breathing gas with carbon monoxide becomes a greater concern so the compressor should use a synthetic lubricant with a high flash point temperature. The lubricant and filtration should be replaced with greater frequency and the breathing gas quality has to be vigilantly monitored. Interestingly, in our experience running hypoxic Trimix through breathing air compressors actually seems to improve their efficiency. Oxygen, heat and moisture are the enemies of gas compression but the inert dry helium causes the compressor to run cooler and reduces the moisture; the compressor runs a little more quiet too.

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