Vortex Tube Cold Fractions – An Explanation

Vortex Tube Family

At EXAIR we’ve been a pioneer in the compressed air market for the past 34 years.  We’ve brought engineered nozzles to the market which reduce compressed air consumption while maintaining performance, laminar flow Air Knives, pneumatic conveyors, atomizing nozzles, air-assisted static eliminators, and a slew of other products.  One of these “other” products is our Vortex Tube, which we manufacture in various sizes while also using as a basis for our Cold Guns, Adjustable Spot Coolers, Mini Coolers, and Cabinet Coolers – all of which are built on the same Vortex Tube technology.

Theory of operation for an EXAIR Vortex Tube

The principle behind a Vortex Tube is rooted in the Ranque-Hilsch effect which takes place inside of the tube.  As a compressed air source is fed into the Vortex Tube, the air flows through a generator and begins to spin down the length of the tube, “hugging” the ID of the tube.  When this spinning air contacts a deliberate obstruction at the end of the tube, it is forced to reverse directions, which requires a change in diameter to the vortex.  The original vortex must decrease in diameter, and in order to do so, it must give off energy.  This energy is shed in the form of heat, and a portion of the incoming air is directed out of the tube with a drastically reduced temperature via what is called the “cold end”.  Another portion of the air escapes through the “hot end” of the tube, resulting in a cold airflow at one end, and a hot airflow at the other end of the tube.

Small, but powerful, Vortex Tubes really are a marvel of engineering.  And, like most useful developments in engineering, Vortex Tube technology begs the question “How can we control and use this phenomena?”  And, “What are the effects of changing the amount of air which escapes via the cold end and the hot end of the tube?”

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

These answers are found in the understanding of what is called a cold fraction.  A cold fraction is the percentage of incoming air which will exhaust through the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  If the cold fraction is 80%, we will see 80% of the incoming airflow exhaust via the cold end of the tube.  The remaining airflow (20%) will exhaust via the hot end of the tube.

For example, setting a model 3210 Vortex Tube (which has a compressed air flow of 10 SCFM @ 100 PSIG) to an 80% cold fraction will result in 8 SCFM of air exhausting via the cold end, and 2 SCFM of air exhausting through the hot end of the Vortex Tube.  If we change this cold fraction to 60%, 6 SCFM will exhaust through the cold end and 4 SCFM will exhaust through the hot end.

But what does this mean?

Essentially, this means that we can vary the flow, and temperature, of the air from the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  The chart above shows temperature drop and rise, relative to the incoming compressed air temperature.  As we decrease the cold fraction, we decrease the volume of air which exhausts via the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  But, we also further decrease the outlet temperature.

This translates to an ability to provide extremely low temperature air.  And the lower the temperature, the lower the flow.

Red box shows the temperature drop in degrees F when an EXAIR Vortex Tube is operated at 100 PSIG with an 80% cold fraction.

With this in mind, the best use of a Vortex Tube is with a setup that produces a low outlet temperature with good cold air volume.  Our calculations, testing, and years of experience have found that a cold fraction of ~80% can easily provide the best of both worlds.  Operating at 100 PSIG, we will see a temperature drop of 54°F, with 80% of the incoming air exiting the tube on the cold end (see red circle in chart above).  For a compressed air supply with a temperature of 74°F-84°F (common compressed air temperatures), we will produce an output flow with a temperature between 20°F and 30°F – freezing cold air!

With a high volume and low temperature air available at an 80% cold fraction, most applications are well suited for this type of setup.  When you order a Vortex Tube from EXAIR we will ship it preset to ~80% cold fraction, allowing you to immediately install it right of the box.

The cold air from an EXAIR Vortex Tube is effective to easily spot cool a variety of components from PCB soldering joints to CNC mills, and even complete electrical control panels.  Contact an Application Engineer with application specific questions or to further discuss cold fractions.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE

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 Cold Fractions

Vortex Tubes are the perfect solution when dealing with a variety of spot cooling applications. They use compressed air to produce a cold air stream and a hot air stream, with temperatures ranging from as low as -50°F  up to +260°F (based on ambient supply temperature) and providing as much as 10,200 Btu/hr. of cooling capacity. By simply adjusting the valve in the hot end of the Vortex Tube, you are able to control the “cold fraction” which is the percentage of air consumed by the vortex tube that is exhausted as cold air versus the amount of air exhausted as hot air. Our small, medium and large Vortex Tubes provide the same temperature drop and rise, it’s the volume of air that changes with the various sizes.

Vortex Tubes
Vortex Tubes are available in small, medium and large sizes with various flows and cooling capacities.

When looking at the below performance chart, you will see that “Pressure Supply” and “Cold Fraction %” setting all play a part in changing the performance of the Vortex Tubes. Take for example, an operating pressure of 100 PSIG and cold fraction setting of 20%, you will see a 123°F drop on the cold side versus a 26°F temperature rise on the hot side. By the using the same Vortex Tube and keeping the operating pressure at 100 PSIG but changing the cold fraction to 80%, you will now see a 54°F temperature drop on the cold side and a 191° rise at the hot end.

Vortex Tube Performance Data
Vortex Tube Performance Chart

We’ve looked at how the cold fraction changes the temperature, but how does it change the flow for the various Models?

Say you are using a Model # 3240 Medium Vortex Tube which consumes 40 SCFM @ 100 PSIG. Again with the cold fraction set at 80% (80% of the consumed compressed air out of the cold end), you would flow 32 SCFM at the cold air exhaust.

40 SCFM x 0.8 (80% CF) = 32 SCFM

Using the same Model # 3240 Medium Vortex Tube but now with a 20% cold fraction (20% of consumed compressed air out of the cold end), you would flow 8 SCFM at the cold exhaust.

40 SCFM x 0.20 (20% CF) = 8 SCFM

As you can see, to achieve the colder air temperatures, the volume of cold air being exhausted is reduced as well. This is important to consider when making a Model selection. Some other considerations would be the operating pressure which you can see also has a significant effect on performance. Also the compressed air supply temperature because the above temperatures are temperature differentials, so in the example of the 80% cold fraction there is a 115F temperature drop from your inlet compressed air temperature.

If you need additional assistance, you can always contact myself or another application engineer and we would be happy to make the best selection to fit your specific need.

Justin Nicholl
Application Engineer
justinnicholl@exair.com
@EXAIR_JN

 

The Effect of Back Pressure on a Vortex Tube

Vortex tubes have been considered a phenomena of Physics and boggled minds for many years.  To give a brief run down of how the Vortex Tube works please refer to Figure 1 below.

How_A_Vortex_Tube_Works
Figure 1

As seen above, the control valve is determining the amount of air allowed to escape the hot end and sets the cold fraction.  A cold fraction is the percentage of air that exits the cold side versus the hot side. The cold fraction and operating pressure sets the temperature drop on the cold end and temperature rise on the hot end, as well as volumetric flow out of both ends. The control valve is not the only variable that can alter the cold fraction of the Vortex Tube though.

In Figure 1 and the performance chart below, there is no restriction on the hot end or the cold end outlets. No restriction means no back pressure and the cold air has the easiest path to the area needing cooling. Back pressure can directly affect the performance of a Vortex Tube.  As little as 3 psig of back pressure can begin to alter the temperature drop or rise on the Vortex Tube.  This is due to the fact that Vortex Tubes operate off an absolute pressure differential.  If the outlets have a restriction on them then they are not discharging at atmospheric pressure, 14.7 psi. What kind of items can cause back pressure and can the performance with a back pressure on the outlet be determined?

Back pressure is created by implementing any form of restriction on the hot or cold outlet. This may be undersized tubing to deliver the cold air or a valve that has been installed to try and control the volume of air being blown onto the process as well as many other possibilities.  The best rule of thumb to eliminate back pressure is to keep the tubing on an outlet the same cross sectional dimension as the outlet on the Vortex Tube and try to keep the tubing as short as possible.

If back pressure cannot be prevented, the performance variance of the Vortex Tube can be calculated and possibly compensated for. The variables that are needed to do so are the inlet air pressure of the vortex tube and the amount of back pressure that is being seen on the outlets. If this is different from the hot end to the cold end both will need to be known.  If these are not known they can be measure by installing a pipe Tee and a pressure gauge. This may need to be a sensitive pressure gauge that measures even relatively low psig. (1-15 psig)

Once these variables are known, we want to look at an absolute pressure differential versus the back pressure differential. For example, the Vortex Tube is a operating at 100 psig inlet pressure, 50% cold fraction and 10 psi of back pressure.  We look at the pressure differentials and can use Algebraic method to determine the inlet pressure supply that the tube will actually perform at.

(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)

So if there is a 10 psig back pressure on the outlet of a Vortex tube operating a 100 psig inlet pressure the tube will actually carry performance as if the inlet pressure was ~68 psig.   To showcase the alteration in performance we will look at just the temperature drop out of the cold side of the Vortex Tube. (Keep in mind this is a drop from the incoming compressed air temperature.)

Vortex Tube Performance Data
Vortex Tube Performance Chart

As shown in the performance chart above, if the Vortex Tube was operating at 100 psig inlet pressure and 50% cold fraction the temperature drop would be 100°F.  By applying a 10 psi back pressure on the outlet of the Vortex Tube the temperature will be decreased to ~87°F temperature drop.   This will also decrease the volumetric flow of air exiting the Vortex Tube which can also be calculated in order to determine the cooling capacity of the Vortex Tube at the altered state.  Keep an eye out for a follow up blog coming soon to see that calculation.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer Manager
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF