What Is A Btu?

A Btu, or British Thermal Unit, is a traditional unit of energy and is a measure of the heat content of fuels.

Originally, the Btu was the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 pound of liquid water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.  The term became common among engineers in the late 1800’s.

A single Btu is insignificant in terms of the amount of energy used by a single household or by an entire country. In 2013, the United States used about 98 quadrillion (written out, 1 quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeros) Btu of energy.

One Btu is approximately equal to the energy released by burning a match.


Interesting Energy Conversion Factors

Energy source Physical units and Btu (averages,¹ 2012)
Electricity 1 kilowatt hour = 3,412 Btu
Natural gas 1 cubic foot = 1,025 Btu
Motor gasoline (10% ethanol) 1 gallon = 120,524 Btu
Diesel fuel 1 gallon = 138,690 Btu
Heating oil 1 gallon = 138,690 Btu
Propane 1 gallon = 91,333 Btu
Wood 1 cord = 20,000,000 Btu (Estimated)

1Weighted averages across different contexts of each fuel such as imports, exports, production, and consumption. Source:  www.eia.gov/EnergyExplained by the U.S . Energy Information Administration

EXAIR manufactures the Cabinet Cooler System.  The Cabinet Cooler System is a low cost, reliable way to cool and purge electronic control panels.  They incorporate a vortex tube to produce cold air from compressed air – with no moving parts! EXAIR Cabinet Cooler Systems are available for NEMA 12, 4, and 4X type enclosures.  For the most efficient way to operate Cabinet cooler, a thermostat control system would be utilized. The standard thermostat control systems include an adjustable thermostat factory set at 95F.  Also, available is the ETC Electronic Temperature Control, providing precise control with easy adjustability and a digital readout.

Cabinet Cooler Family
EXAIR Cabinet Cooler Systems

In the United States, the power of HVAC (Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning) systems is often expressed in BTU/hr.

The EXAIR Cabinet Cooler Systems are available with cooling capacities ranging from 275 to 5,600 Btu/hr.  To cool the down the equivalent of 98 quadrillion Btu’s of energy used by the US in 2013, it would take 17.5 trillion of our largest Cabinet Cooler Systems!

If you would like to find out how many Btu’s of cooling your electrical cabinet needs, please fill out and send in the Cabinet Cooler Sizing Guide and we can let you know.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
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Match Photo courtesy of Samuel M. Livingston via Creative Commons License

The Effect of Back Pressure on a Vortex Tube Part 2, Calculating Btu/Hr.

My previous blog post was about how Vortex Tubes react when there is back pressure due to a restriction on either the hot or cold discharge of the Vortex Tube.  In it I mentioned that there is a formula to calculate what the cooling capacity (Btu/Hr) will be if there is no way to avoid operating the Vortex Tube without back pressure on the discharge. That is the calculation focus of this blog – calculating Btu/hr of a Vortex Tube with back pressure.

To continue with the same example, the calculations from the previous blog are shown below.  Last time the example Vortex Tube was operating at 100 psig inlet pressure, 50% cold fraction, and 10 psi of back pressure. We will need some additional information to determine the Btu/Hr capacity. The additional information needed is the temperature of the supplied compressed air as well as the ambient air temperature desired to maintain.  For the example the inlet compressed air will be 70°F and desired ambient air temperature to maintain will be 90°F.

(100 psig + 14.7 psia) / (10 psig + 14.7 psia) = X / 14.7 psia
4.6437 = X / 14.7
X= 14.7 * 4.6437
X = 68.2628
(Values have been rounded for display purposes)

The calculation above gives the compensated operating pressure (X = 68.2628) which will be needed for the BTU/hr calculation. The rated air consumption value of the Vortex Tube will also need to be known.  A 30 SCFM rated generator will be used for this example, the normal BTU capacity of a Vortex Tube with a 30 SCFM generator is 2,000 BTU/hr.

First, determine the new consumption rate by establishing a ratio of the compensated pressure (68.2628 psi) against the rated pressure (100 psi) at absolute conditions (14.7 psia).

(68.2628 PSIG + 14.7 (atmospheric pressure)) / (100 PSIG (rated pressure) + 14.7) = .7233
.7233 x 30 SCFM  = 21.7 SCFM Input 

Second, the volumetric flow of cold air at the previously mentioned cold fraction (50%) will be calculated.  To do this multiply the cold fraction setting (50%) of the Vortex Tube by the compensated input consumption (21.7 SCFM) of the Vortex Tube.

50% cold fraction x 21.7 SCFM input = 10.85 SCFM of cold air flow

Third, the temperature of air that will be produced by the Vortex Tube will need to be calculated.  For this consult the Vortex Tube performance chart which is shown below. To simplify the example the compensated operating pressure (68.2628 psi) will be rounded to 70 psig and to obtain the 70 psig value the mean between 80 psig and 60 psig performance from the chart will be used.

Cold Fraction
EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

For the example: A 70 psig inlet pressure at 50% cold fraction will produce approximately an 88°F drop.
Fourth, subtract the temperature drop (88°F) from the temperature of the supplied compressed air temperature (70°F).

70°F Supply air – 88°F drop = -18°F Output Air Temperature

Fifth,  determine the difference between the temperature of the air being produced by the Vortex Tube (-18°F) and the ambient air temperature that is desired (90°F).

90°F ambient – -18°F air generated = 108°F difference.

The sixth and final step in the calculation is to apply the answers obtained above into a refrigeration formula to calculate BTU/hr.

1.0746 (BTU/hr. constant for air) x 10.85 SCFM of cold air flow x 108°F ΔT = 1,259 BTU/hr.

In summary, if a 2,000 BTU/hr. Vortex tube is operated at 100 psig inlet pressure, 50% cold fraction, 70°F inlet air to maintain a 90°F ambient condition with 10 psi of back pressure on the outlets of the Vortex Tube the cooling capacity will be de-rated to 1,259 BTU/hr.  That is a 37% reduction in performance.  If a back pressure cannot be avoided and the cooling capacity needed is known then it is possible to compensate and ensure the cooling capacity can still be achieved.  The ideal scenario for a Vortex Tube to remain at optimal performance is to operate with no back pressure on the cold or hot outlet.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer Manager

What’s an EXAIR?

Sometimes taking customer’s phone calls remind me of an Abbott and Costello bit (but I have to be Costello). Conversations can feel a bit like twenty questions. Instead of opening with mineral, vegetable, or animal, customers call in wanting more information on an “EXAIR”.  For our brand manager and marketing department, it is a clear sign that what they are doing is working, but to me can be a bit confusing.

Before you start thinking I don’t know my product, please remember an “EXAIR” can be quite few things. We make the broadest variety of problem solving end-use compressed air products for industry which equates to many possibilities of what an “EXAIR” may be. Is it an Air Nozzle, an Air Knife, an Air Wipe, an Air Amplifier, an Atomizing Spray Nozzle, a Safety Air Gun, a Static Eliminator, a Vacuum Generator, a Line Vac, an Industrial Vacuum, a Vortex Tube, a Cold Gun, or a Cabinet Cooler?   Unfortunately, with no moving parts to wear out, our products sometimes will outlast their labels, so the customers don’t have anymore information. Then, I have to ask what the product does.

So I ask the customer, “does the EXAIR blow off, vacuum, clean, dry, cool, convey, evacuate, coat, divert, dust, float, open, lift, purge, or spray?”

And then I wait for the customer’s detailed and eloquent response…”It works”, they sometimes say. But most of the time they respond with all of the details or enough to determine what product they have. In, in the end, an “EXAIR” is generally a Cabinet Cooler or a Vortex Tube (though it may be any of the above selection) – and we won’t complain that our company name can be so closely associated with our products.

We have so many products because compressed air is so versatile and useful.  We have taken our expertise in compressed air and used it to solve numerous problems for our customers. This is not as easy, as it sounds.  First, you need to know how well our compressed air products can perform. Second, you need to know what kind of performance the customer needs to get the job done. For instance when working on a Cabinet Cooler sizing exercise: A customer has a control box that is 24″ tall by  36″ wide by 12″ deep.  This box is reaching temperatures that cause the electronics to fail. Generally, this temperature is going to be between 110 degrees Fahrenheit to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature in the plant was 95 degrees Fahrenheit, when it failed.  The customer would now like a Cabinet Cooler System to protect his enclosure from future temperature failures.

To calculate the heat load of the electronics, first we need to calculate the surface area in square feet. In the example above that would be 22 square feet. Second, we need to calculate the temperature differential between the outside and the inside of the cabinet.  The maximum temperature differential is 130 F – 95 F, which is 35 degree differential. With the temperature differential chart from our website, we can calculate the BTU/HR per square foot.

Temperature Conversion Table

For our example, it would be 13.8 BTU/HR/ft^2. Multiply this by our surface area. Our Cabinet Cooler needs to cool at least 303.6 BTU/HR. Our 4308 Cabinet Cooler System would be a good cabinet cooler for this enclosure. It can cool 550 BTU/Hr. It is rated for a NEMA 12 enclosure to prevent dust and oil from entering the cabinet.

To help the customer, you have to first ask the right questions. Most of these questions are listed on the Cabinet Cooler Sizing Guide on our website. What is the internal air temperature in the cabinet? What is the ambient air temperature? Are their any fans in the cabinet? What is the NEMA rating for the Cabinet? Sometimes it is best to speak with an Application Engineer to know for sure you have your bases covered.

Dave Woerner
Application Engineer