Which Vortex Tube Do I Need?

Last week, I wrote a brief introduction to vortex tubes, titled One Item Generates ¼ Ton of Refrigeration and Fits in the Palm of your Hand.” In it I introduced the Vortex Tube and the other products made from Vortex Tubes: Cabinet Coolers, Cold Guns, Adjustable Spot Cooler and Mini Coolers. I also introduced the idea of a cold fraction.  Today, I want to talk about specific Vortex Tube models.

The flow from the cold side of the Vortex Tubeis characterized in two different ways. First, we characterize the air by ΔT (temperature drop) from the starting compressed air temperature. With a supply pressure of 100 PSIG, the drop in temperature can range from 54° to 123° Fahrenheit. Second, we characterize the flow of air in Standard Cubic Feet per Minute. The different models of vortex tube are design to provide a range of flows and temperature.

Vortex Tube Specification

Vortex Tube Specification Chart

When facing this list you have numerous choices that can be daunting. My priorities for selecting a Vortex Tube for a customer are twofold. First, you need the Vortex Tube that will work in your application. Second, I want to choose the model with the least amount of compressed air in order to solve their problem with the least amount of air possible. The smallest Vortex Tube is a model 3202. It also utilizes the least amount of compressed air, 2 SCFM. At 100 PSIG and an 80 percent cold fraction, it will produce a cold flow of 1.6 SCFM at 54° F  below your compressed air temperature. If your compressed air temperature is starting at 70° F, your cold temperature will 16° F. All of the Vortex Tubes will be able produce this same temperature drop, but depending on which Vortex Tube you use will determine the volume of flow produced at that temperature.

1.6 SCFM of flow 54° F below compressed air temperature will take 135 BTU/HR away from a small 100°F box, which is enough energy to cool a needle, a small sensor, or a tiny camera, but what if you have a bigger area you need to cool. Then you need to use a Vortex Tube that will produce more flow. The 3202, 3204, and 3208 will all produce air at the same temperature, but the 3204 and 3208 will produce more volume of cold air.  With the same parameters as above (100 PSIG of inlet pressure and 80 percent cold fraction) the 3204 will produce 3.2 SCFM of cold air and cool 275 BTU/Hr. out of a 100° F environment. The 3208 will produce 6.4 SCFM of cold air and cool 550 BTU/Hr. These larger Vortex Tubes could be used to cool a closed circuit camera in a hot environment or a small drill bit where coolant is prohibited or undesired. From here our product continue to produce more volume of flow and we can go up to our largest Vortex Tube, 3299 which will use 150 SCFM of compressed and cool up to 10,200 BTU/HR.

What if you have an application where you don’t need more air but 16°F  isn’t cold enough? Then you can adjust your cold fraction. Adjusting the cold fraction will allow you to increase the temperature drop. Opening the brass hot valve, will lower the cold fraction. As more air is allowed to escape out of the hot end of the Vortex Tube, the temperature and the flow rate of the cold flow decrease.  If you need to cool below a 50% cold fraction we recommend the 3400 series Vortex Tubes. At 100 PSIG this would occur when you need more than 100° F temperature drop.

Vortex Tubes can be used in a variety of cooling application. If you have any question about the topic discussed above please contact me or another application engineer.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer

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