EXAIR Vortex Tubes: As Much Cold Air As You Need, As Cold As You Need It

If you’re looking for a reliable, consistent flow of cold air, there’s really no better way to produce it than with a Vortex Tube. There are no moving parts…the air flow and temperature from a particular model, set to a specific cold fraction, is only influenced by the compressed air supply pressure & temperature.

Pressure is easy to control…all you need is a suitable regulator.  Temperature CAN be a variable, depending on your type of compressor, if you have a dryer system (and what type it is,) and sometimes, ambient conditions…if, for example, a long pipe is run through a very hot environment like a foundry or a blast furnace operation.  In cases where supply pressure and/or temperature can be limitations, a higher capacity Vortex Tube, set to a lower Cold Fraction, may be specified.  Which brings me to the user inquiry that inspired today’s blog…

This particular customer uses our Model 3215 Vortex Tubes (15 SCFM, 1,000 Btu/hr) to provide cooling to analyzer systems that monitor certain quality parameters in their manufacturing processes.  The ability to precisely control the temperature in these systems makes for repeatable and accurate measurement of these parameters.   Their compressed air supply in this area is regulated to 80psig, they have a refrigerant-type dryer and climate-controlled facility, so their supply temperature is a consistent 70°F.  You couldn’t ask for better conditions for a successful Vortex Tube application, and they’ve worked great, for years.

Now, due to a plant expansion, they’re installing some of these analyzer systems in a location where the compressed air supply is limited to 60psig.  The required cooling capacity is going to be the same, so the Project Manager reached out to us to see if they could get the same amount of cooling with this new pressure limitation.  Here’s how they’re doing it:

We publish the rated performance of Vortex Tube products for a supply pressure of 100psig.  The Model 3215 Vortex Tube consumes 15 SCFM @100psig and, when set to an 80% Cold Fraction (meaning 80%…or 12 SCFM…of the 15 SCFM supply is directed to the cold end,) the cold air will be 54F colder than the compressed air supply temperature.  Here’s the performance table, so you can follow along:

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Table

Now, their supply is at 80psig.  Since air consumption is directly proportional to absolute supply pressure (gauge pressure PLUS atmospheric, which is 14.7psi at sea level,) we can calculate their units’ consumption as follows:

(80psig + 14.7psia) ÷ (100psig + 14.7psia) = 0.83 X 15 SCFM (@100psig) = 12.4 SCFM (@80psig)

So, with a 50°F temperature drop (from a supply @70°F,) they were getting 12.4 SCFM of cold air at 20°F.

As you can see from the table above, they’ll only get a 46°F drop at 60psig…and the flow won’t be as high, either.  So…we’ll need to get more air through the Vortex Tube, right?  Let’s use a little math to solve for what we need.

We still need 20°F cold air from 70°F compressed air, so, at 60psig, we’re looking at a Cold Fraction of ~70%.  And we still need 12.4 SCFM, so:

12.4 SCFM ÷ 0.7 = 17.7 SCFM @60psig (required supply)

Our Model 3230 Vortex Tube uses 30 SCFM @10opsig…at 60psig it’ll consume:

(60psig + 14.7psia) ÷ (100psig + 14.7psia) = 0.65 X 30 SCFM (@100psig) = 19.5 SCFM (@60psig)

That’s about 10% more flow than they needed, theoretically, which was close enough to start.  From there, they “dialed in” performance by regulating the supply pressure and Cold Fraction (see video, below):

If you’d like to find out more, or work through a cooling application, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
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Vortex Tube Cooling: One Vortex Tube, Multiple Targets, Will This Work?


I had this question posed to me the other day. The customer asks, “I have three, small, enclosed spaces that are all within about five feet of each other. I’d like to put vortex tube cooling into each space. Can I do it with one vortex tube or will I have to use three of them?”

Imagine if you will, the cold air output of a single vortex tube being split three ways and ducted into each of these small chambers. While it is definitely technically possible to do, it isn’t always a feasible idea from the point of view of lost cooling power. Also, anytime that you can split up the effect you are trying to create whether that be cooling with a Vortex Tube or blowing off a large target that has many features to it, generally it is better practice to divide the application solution up to be applied over multiple, smaller units rather than one large one.

In this customer’s case, he wanted to save money on the purchase of multiple vortex tubes by purchasing one model 3230 vortex tube and plumbing the cold air output to his three cooling chambers. The problem is that the ambient temperature outside the boxes is rather hot and also contains high humidity. How exactly is this a problem?  You might ask. The problem is in all of the heat lost in cooling down the cold air distribution pipe (the pipe, hose or tube delivering the cold air into the chambers) that lies outside each box. That results in a net temperature gain (higher temperature) of the cold air you are trying to use for cooling the chambers or enclosures. With that lost cooling power, the customer runs a risk of not having sufficient cooling power to offset the heat load in each chamber. There is also the issue of back-pressure being presented to the Vortex Tube itself from the cold air distribution piping. When subjected to back-pressure, vortex tubes will lose their cooling capacity. Finally, there is the problem of getting equal cooling power delivered to each chamber. In this case, the solution of piping cold air to each chamber would cause an un-even distribution of the cold air with the closest chamber receiving the lion’s share of the cooling, leaving the other two under-cooled.

So, what is a better way to do this?  The method I suggested to the client was to use three of our model 3208 (8 SCFM) vortex tubes, allowing for direct connection of the vortex tube cold air output to each chamber. The cold air no longer has to cool down the cold air piping thus leaving more cooling power for each chamber, there is no back-pressure issue, and finally and probably most importantly would be the total air consumed would only be 24 SCFM in this case (3 x 8 SCFM) vs. 30 SCFM with a single larger vortex tube. That is a 20% savings on compressed air use in a straight up comparison. Depending on how many hours a day the system would be used, the difference in purchase price could be made up by lower operating cost in less than a year.

Neal Raker
Application Engineer

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