What is the Working Principle of a Breather Valve?

A breather valve, also known as a relief valve, is as vital to a pressurized system as a nose is for the body. When a storage tank is overpressurized, the breather valve provides an escape for excess air to leave the tank. The breather valve is also referred to as a vacuum relief valve, and it is typically mounted on a fixed roof storage tank.

Breather valves are available as pressure valves, vacuum valves, and pressure and vacuum combination valves which are all used to protect a tank. These valves control the excessive pressure in tanks and protect them from damage and rupturing. The extensive use of vacuum valves exists for fixed tanks to reduce evaporation loss as well.

Why Do We Use Breather Valves?

The breather valve is a device mounted on the top of a storage tank, and its primary aim is to protect the tank from any damage caused by internal contents. Without a controlled opening, the tank would face damage due to excessive pressure caused by pumping liquids or vapor changes which result from thermal adjustments. 

Pumping procedures or thermal changes can destroy the tank if protection is not in place. As the fluid level decreases within the tank, the vapor pressure will be lower than the atmospheric pressure. The controlled opening of the tank can alleviate this vacuum pressure as needed for safety. As a result, breather valves can increase the tank's life and eliminate the possibility of rupturing. 

How Do Breather Valves Operate?

A venting device such as a breather valve is used to drain a large vapor volume from a tank with low pressure. In both positive and vacuum conditions, the pressure values are set in inches of water pressure due to the low maximum working pressures that are permitted by large storage tanks. Tanks are built to meet the API 650 standard as they are large volume welded vessels. Breather valves have ports that exceed the area of the inlet or nozzle to accommodate the large volumes of vapor that are released with low pressure.

The valve’s low set pressure requires weight loading specifically instead of spring loading. Due to this low setting, a breather valve will open when the pressure within the tank exceeds the pressure surrounding it. To obtain adequate flow, the weight-loaded valve operation MAWP should be double the required set pressure for the best flow. If MAWP is lower than the required set pressure, the size of the valve may be larger than what is typically needed.

If 20% of the pressure is allowed, valve chatter and accelerated diaphragm wear will occur. In other words, the size of a vacuum or pressure valve should not be sized to 10% or 20% overpressure, and such components are not like a high-pressure safety relief valve. When it comes to pressure valve sizing, consult manufacturer flow curves and allow for serviceable overset pressure.

How Do Breather Valves Protect a Tank?

Breather valves can protect tanks from moisture, excessive pressure, and other undesirable effects in many ways, including:

1. Pressure and Vacuum Settings

Breather valves are designed to meet varying pressure values, ranging from 0.2 psi to 5.0 psi. These settings are the points at which valves can be sealed, and they must be at least 1.0 to 1.5 psi less than the pressure/vacuum maximum of the container. A breather valve makes the vessel safer without leakage or damage. Lower settings can allow for the valve to open more often, resulting in outer atmospheric air entering and shortening the life of the desiccants within the container.

2. Temperature Variations

The breather valve can be open during storage due to valve settings, including the magnitude and frequency of temperature differences that can occur in any specific storage area. If a container is sealed, the pressure will change anywhere from 1.0 to 1.5 psi for every 30°F temperature adjustment.

3. Temperature vs Humidity

Suppose a breather valve is opened many times in a given duration. In such cases, the amount of moisture that will enter during each opening is increased and can reduce the desiccant life, depending on the climatic condition. However, high humidity will deter temperature variations, which can cause the breather valve with the lowest setting to not open too many times in one year.


Now you know a few factors of breather valves that will help you to select solutions wisely and use them in combination with an adequate desiccant, which can protect the container in an optimal environment for many years.

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