The importance of humidity control
11 September 2020
IP&E SPOKE to Humidity Solutions Managing Director, John Barker, about how Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown has impacted the humidity control sector
IP&E: What role does humidity control play and have you seen a change during lockdown?
JB: Humidity control is often about maintaining a stable humidity, so for museums, offices, printers and cleanrooms it is common place to aim for 50%rh which ensures that hydroscopic materials such as people, paper and timber do not take on or give up moisture, thus maintaining efficiencies and productivity.
With many businesses following government guidance and closing down plant and/or storing product for future use, we have had more companies coming to us asking for assistance with preserving equipment and product. Clearly it is important to ensure that the product or machinery is in perfect condition once doors are re-opened, so that companies can return to profitable work as quickly as possible.
With product storage, humidity control is a vital component to ensure that undesirable microbial and bacterial growths encouraged by high humidity and condensation does not affect organic hydroscopic materials such as fabric, leather and cardboard packaging. This can result in lost product or difficulty maintaining mandated hygiene standards which can also cause a loss of product, time and profit.
Storage of machines should also be within a maintained environment. At present we are delivering our dehumidifiers to serve moth-balled cruise liners, redundant planes and empty holiday homes. In more normal times humidity control is vital in the storage of military equipment, document storage, museum stores, the insides of large marine engines being exported and for the inside of pipes serving power stations whilst undergoing maintenance, to ensure corrosion does not weaken structures. Similar issues - just different applications brought on by the present economic climate.
IP&E: Do these facilities require humidity control during production?
JB: Industrial plant also does not look after itself. Processing and pumping facilities in uncontrolled humidity could lead to all manner of problems, including condensation on pipes, tanks, building surfaces, structures, fittings and equipment. This can lead to corrosion, service interruptions resulting from the need for unscheduled maintenance work, higher energy running costs with inefficient machinery and Health and Safety risks for personnel due to pooling condensate or slippery surfaces.
Examples include water pumping stations, where the cold water being brought to the surface causes condensation on the outside of the pipes, or the brewing sector where again cold fluid is delivered via food grade stainless steel pipes but causing condensation and potential hygiene issues.
On the inside of industrial plant, dehumidification is required to ensure the efficient transportation of powders and is essential in the production of lithium batteries.
IP&E: How is humidity important in the production of batteries?
JB: The safe manufacture of lithium-ion batteries must take place in a relative humidity of less than 1% because of the delicate chemistry involved. Humidity can be a source of danger in production areas as well as risking the safety of plant employees. If not, you might well have to deal with issues such as how the Lithium reacts easily with any water vapour to form dangerous combinations of lithium hydroxide, hydrogen and heat, or how exposing lithium to humidity levels above 1% impacts battery quality, performance and shelf life.
Any humidity irregularities can affect your production and output.
Our supplier for these desiccant dehumidifiers is Cotes, based in Denmark, and they have installed over 70 such systems worldwide.
IP&E: Do you have any other measures about humidity control.
JB: What Covid-19 has highlighted is the importance of our indoor air quality. Before March 2020 we were concerned about the amount of pollution in our towns and cities and how this air is brought into our places of work where we sit for 8-10 hours a day with no control, or say, about how the air is treated before it is delivered into our space. Temperature we can feel, too much CO2 we can’t. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) can be harmful and humidity can have a dramatic effect – too high mould and damp, too low sore eyes and susceptibility to colds and illness. Correct indoor air quality can have a dramatic positive effect on our health and wellbeing.
The lockdown has highlighted that we also need to consider our home environment. Airtight houses reducing energy bills are great, but without consideration of the air that we breath it may be helping our wallet but not our health.
IP&E: Do you have a thought to leave us with?
JB: As humans we do not have the ability to detect humidity like we do temperature, except in the extremes. However, our bodies, machinery, products and buildings are all extremely sensitive to small changes which in a commercial world can make a significant difference to productivity, reducing waste and increasing profit. In our lives it can make a dramatic difference to our health and wellbeing.