Adding air to a tank is a common requirement for the safe and proper function of various types of pressurized equipment. From scuba diving to paintball, compressed air tanks are used in many applications where a reliable supply of high-pressure air is needed to operate specialized tools and equipment.
Knowing how to properly fill and maintain these tanks is an important skill for anyone who uses compressed air equipment regularly. Improper filling procedures can lead to tank failure or explosion, so following safety guidelines is critical.
In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about adding air to a tank. We will discuss typical reasons for refilling tanks, the types of tanks that need compressed air, methods for adding air, key safety precautions to take, and tips for getting the job done right. Whether you are refilling scuba tanks, CO2 canisters, or need to top up a fire extinguisher, this guide will teach you the basics of safely and effectively adding air to a tank.
Table of Contents
Reasons for Adding Air to a Tank
There are several reasons why you may need to add air to a compressed gas tank:
Compensate for Air Loss
Over time, pressurized tanks can slowly lose air through minor leaks or permeation through the tank walls. Periodic topping off is necessary to maintain optimal pressure.
Scuba diving tanks will lose a small amount of air each day due to minor o-ring leaks and gradual diffusion of air through the tank. Refilling keeps the tank pressurized to its working pressure. CO2 tanks for paintball guns can slowly lose pressure as gas permeates through hoses and seals. Adding more air compensates for these losses.
Maintain Proper Pressure
Most pressurized equipment requires a minimum pressure to operate safely and effectively. Adding more air maintains the optimal pressure level needed for proper functioning.
Fire extinguishers require sufficient internal pressure to forcefully expel the extinguishing agent. Periodic refills ensure adequate pressure is available when needed. Insufficient pressure could lead to a less effective discharge.
Compressed air tools require a consistent pressure level to power pneumatic equipment. Adding air maintains the desired pressure for reliable tool operation. Running below optimal pressure can impact performance.
Refill After Use
Any time air is discharged from a tank during use, it will need to be refilled to restore full pressure.
Scuba tanks obviously need to be topped up after a dive to fully pressurize the tank for subsequent dives. The same applies for paintball markers – tanks need to be refilled after each day of play to recompress the tank to operational pressures.
After a fire extinguisher is discharged, it will need to be recharged to make sure it is ready for use again. Likewise for compressed air-powered tools or devices – the tank needs to be refilled after the air supply is depleted.
Types of Tanks that Require Air
There are many types of tanks and pressure vessels that require compressed air refills. Common examples include:
Scuba diving uses high-pressure air tanks to provide breathing gas underwater. Scuba tanks are pressurized up to 232 bar/3400 psi and need regular refilling between dives. Aluminum, steel, or composite tanks are used.
CO2 and compressed air tanks power paintball markers. These thick-walled cylinders hold gas at up to 4500 psi for repeated high-velocity discharges. Smaller than scuba tanks.
High-pressure CO2 tanks are used for inflatable life vests, soda dispensers, and other applications. They require periodic recharging as the CO2 is consumed.
Fire Extinguisher Tanks
Portable fire extinguishers use pressurized dry chemical, foam, water, or other agents that are propelled by compressed air. Need to be recharged after any discharge.
Compressed Air Tanks
High-pressure cylinders provide air to power pneumatic tools and equipment. Available in many sizes from portable tanks to large industrial receivers. Require ongoing air replenishment.
Methods for Adding Air
There are several options available for refilling compressed gas cylinders with air:
Using a Compressor
A high-pressure compressor capable of achieving tank filling pressures can be used to refill cylinders. Slow fill rates are needed to avoid overheating.
Large dive shops and industrial facilities often have high-output compressors for tank filling. Small scuba compressors can be used for private tank refilling but fill rates are slow.
Lubricated compressors require filtration to produce breathing quality air. Compressor output must be regulated down to safe fill pressures.
Using Compressed Air Cylinders
Pre-charged air cylinders with pressures up to 6000 psi can be used to rapidly refill tanks using a fill whip hose and bleed valve. Cascading smaller cylinders into larger tanks.
Scuba divers often use large “air banks” containing 500-1000 psi air to refill their diving tanks using a fill station. Smaller high-pressure cylinders are also available.
Using a Dive Shop
Most dive shops offer a tank filling service using high-pressure compressors. Air quality is analyzed to meet breathing standards. Valves and o-rings are also checked.
Using a Gas Station
Some service stations have an air compressor for tire inflation that may be capable of slowly filling low pressure compressed air tanks and cylinders. Unsuitable for scuba or CO2 tanks.
Using a Paintball Field
Paintball fields will have air stations for refilling paintball tanks. Used tanks can be exchanged for filled ones. Refilling is faster than scuba tanks due to the smaller volume.
So in summary, there are various methods available for adding air to tanks based on the tank size, desired fill pressure, fill rate, and air quality needed. Compressors, air banks, and filling services are the most common options.
Proper safety precautions need to be taken when recharging any compressed gas tank to avoid accidents:
Tanks should only be filled by individuals with proper training in the hazards of high-pressure gases and safe handling procedures. Improper filling can result in catastrophic tank failure.
Formal training courses are offered by industry organizations on safely filling compressed air tanks like scuba cylinders. Close supervision is needed when learning.
Prior to refilling, the tank should be inspected for damage, rust, or leaks that could compromise integrity under pressure. Valves, o-rings, threads, and pressure relief devices should be checked.
Tanks must be hydrostatically tested periodically by an authorized test facility. Out of test date tanks should not be refilled until re-certified.
Only attachments designed for the specific tank should be used, such as industry standard DIN or Yoke scuba valves. Adapters or improvised fittings can be unsafe.
During filling, the tank pressure must be monitored using a gauged fill station. Do not exceed the marked working pressure of the tank. Overfilling could lead to rupture and explosion.
Many scuba filling stations automatically stop at the rated cylinder pressure. Manually controlled stations require close monitoring of gauges.
Use the “trickle” fill rate at the last 10% of the tank capacity to avoid overshoot. Heed any audible alarms if present.
Proper Filling Procedures
The manufacturer’s instructions should be followed for pressurization rates, maximum fill density, and proper attachment to the air source.
Scuba tanks should be filled slowly to avoid heat buildup. Fill rates depend on cylinder size and compressor output. Air cool down periods may be specified.
Do not refill compressed air tanks that feel abnormally hot to the touch or show visible interior condensation. This can indicate unsafe internal heat levels.
Use In Designated Areas
Tanks should only be filled in designated fill stations with proper ventilation, lighting, air monitoring, and emergency shutdowns. Avoid areas with flammable materials.
Refueling areas for scuba, breathing air, CO2, and other compressed gases should be specially designed to contain accidents and divert fragments away from personnel.
By following these safety guidelines, compressed gas cylinders can be recharged with minimal risk of mechanical failure or over-pressurization. Only fill tanks you have been properly trained on, and always consult the manufacturer’s directions.
How often should I refill my scuba tank?
Most divers refill their scuba tanks after each day of diving to ensure full pressure is available for subsequent dives. Tanks slowly lose some pressure each day even if not used.
Can I refill a scuba tank at a gas station?
No, gas station compressors cannot achieve the 3000+ psi pressures needed to fill scuba tanks. Only use purpose-built scuba filling stations.
What is the safest way to refill CO2 paintball tanks?
Use a compressed air tank with a bleed kit to refill from one pressurized tank to another. Only refill to the working pressure marked on the tank.
Do I need special training to refill fire extinguishers?
Yes, fire extinguisher refilling requires training on safely handling compressed gases, though some smaller extinguishers contain less pressure.
Should I have my scuba tank inspected before refilling?
Yes, have your tank visually inspected and hydrostatically tested at regular intervals by a qualified scuba service technician before refilling.
How do I know when a compressed air tank is completely full?
Use a fill station pressure gauge to fill the tank slowly to its rated working pressure. When pressure stops increasing, the tank is full. Do not overfill past the marked pressure capacity.
Is it safe to refill a scuba tank that was last used over 5 years ago?
No, tanks that have been out of service for over 5 years should be re-certified by a licensed hydrostatic test facility before refilling and use.
What hazards should I avoid when refilling compressed gas tanks?
Avoid open flames, sparks, extreme heat, oil, chemicals, and unventilated areas. Only refill tanks in designated fill stations with proper precautions.
How can I prevent overheating when refilling scuba tanks?
Use a low fill rate, allow cooling periods during the fill, monitor tank temperature, and do not completely fill the tank. Consult the tank manufacturer’s instructions.
Adding air to a compressed gas tank is a straightforward process that allows pressurized vessels to be recharged for ongoing use. However, proper procedures must always be followed to avoid safety risks due to the high internal pressures involved. Take the time to learn the correct filling method for your application and always adhere to safe practices.
With appropriate training and the right equipment, compressed air tanks can be refilled easily and safely. Proper filling helps ensure the pressurized tank performs reliably for many years as a vital component in equipment systems across various industries. Understanding the reasons for refilling, methods available, and key safety precautions allows you to effectively restore these tanks to service so critical operations can continue.