Vortex Tubes for Dummies

Vortex Tubes are intriguing. We can obtain such extreme cold or hot air with nothing more than compressed air and the Vortex Tube. We can adjust the temps very easily with the turn of a screw. Before we dive into how to adjust and get the right temps for your application, let me share a diagram of how the Vortex Tube works:

The unique physical phenomenon of the Vortex Tube principle generates cold air instantly, and for as long – or short – a time as needed.

Now that we have seen how it works, we need to define how to make it work for your specific application! First we need to set the cold fraction… Setting the “cold fraction” is all about how cold or hot you need the air to be. When we talk about this cold fraction, we are talking about the amount of the cold air that comes out of the cold side of the Vortex Tube, which also affects the temperature of that cold air. In other words, a 60% cold fraction equals 60% of the input compressed air exiting the Vortex Tubes cold side.

For example, if you are supplying 80 psi to our medium sized Vortex Tube, you will be generating between 10 and 40 SCFM (depending on the size of the generator). Let’s assume for this example that you are using our 3230 Vortex Tube, generating 30 SCFM. At an 80% cold fraction, 24 SCFM (80% of 30) will be flowing out of the cold end of the Vortex Tube. And it will be flowing at a temperature that is 50°F colder than the temperature of the compressed air provided. Yes, that is correct, assuming that your inlet air temp is 72°F, you will be flowing 24 SCFM of 22°F air from the cold end of the Vortex Tube. But what about the other 6 SCFM? Well, that will be flowing out of the hot end at a whopping 252°F. We must take into account both ends of the Vortex Tube. You can see the performance table below.

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

Let’s look at one more example of this same Vortex Tube 3230. Let’s assume that we need to heat something up. Assuming that your compressed air is 72°F, and we want to heat something up to 115°F, we need to add 43°F to the temp of the compressed air. We can see in the chart that by supplying 80 psig of compressed air, and a 30% Cold Fraction on the Vortex Tube that we can add 43° to the temp of the air. We know that the cold end will give us 9 SCFM (30% of the overall 30 SCFM) and it will flow at -110°F, or -38°F. But we will reach our 115°F desired temp on the hot end, but that will only be at 21 SCFM. If we still need that higher SCFM, we may need to change the generator (explained below) or increase to a larger Vortex Tube all together.

As you can see from the above performance table, there are many ways to get to your desired temperature, be it hot or cold.

Adjusting the Vortex Tube

Next comes the question of how do we adjust the cold fraction. 1st, let me note that unless specified, these always ship to you set at or close to the 80% cold fraction, but, if you want them set to a precise cold fraction, we can permanently set these for you prior to shipping. As you see in the picture to the left, the slotted valve can be turned to adjust the cold fraction. For precision purposes it is always recommended to use a thermometer to set this where you need it (insert the thermometer into the cold flow of air). As a guide, you should seat the valve softly, and back off an 1/8th, a 1/4, or a 1/2 turn (for the small, medium, and large sizes respectively) to drop approximately 20% on the cold fraction scale.

We offer 3 sizes of Vortex Tubes, small, medium and large. Each size offers 3-5 different interchangeable size generators, with a total offering of 12 stock Vortex Tubes. The size of the generator will determine the BTU/hr, as well as the SCFM generated. See the following table for more details:

There are a few other key details to know about the Vortex Tubes. They do not like back pressure. As you can imagine, the magic that makes these work is spinning the generator inside. If that is slowed down due to back pressure, well, it will hinder the results of the entire Vortex Tube. Many people have air coolers or heaters on their compressed air system, keep in mind that the temps generated by the Vortex Tubes are ± the temperature of the compressed air, so it is important to know the temp of your compressed air.

Vortex Tubes can be very loud. We almost always sell these with the Cold and Hot Mufflers. In order to keep most of them under the OSHA standards for sound, you will want the mufflers. Lastly, as with all of EXAIR’s products, it is recommended to use a pressure regulator with a gauge at the point of use. With the Vortex Tubes, it is imperative if you are looking for an accurate temperature.

If you have any questions about the Vortex Tubes, or any of our intelligent air products, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Thank you for stopping by,

Brian Wages

Application Engineer

EXAIR Corporation
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