How to Best Apply Vortex Tube Cooling

So, you have found yourself with a little bit of a conundrum. You need to cool a part but don’t know where to start and there are so many different options to choose from. In most cases when it comes to cooling with compressed air there are two different paths you can take. First is using a large volume of air at room temperature to blow across the surface area of the product. The other option is to use cold air from a vortex tube to drop the part’s temperature. In most case a large volume of air can be used to cool things down to relatively cooler temperatures; think cooling a cup of coffee using your breath. The issue you run into is when the temperature of the room air gets closer to the temperature you want to achieve in the end. In other words, when the temperature difference between your cooling air and your desired end temperature is small there is less cooling taking place with that same volume of air.

This can be explained by looking at the cooling power formula:

Btu/hr = 1.0746*(CFM)*(Delta T)

In this case the Delta T is the difference between the temperature that you want to cool the product down to and the temperature of the air. This means the smaller the delta T is the higher the CFM flow will need to be to counteract the effect of the temperatures are so close to one another. Here are some examples of cooling a product and you are providing 1000 CFM of air to cool it.

Btu/hr = 1.0746*(1000 CFM)*(150F – 130F)

Btu/hr = 21,492 Btu/hr

Btu/hr = 1.0746*(1000 CFM)*(150F – 100F)

Btu/hr = 53,730 Btu/hr

As you can see the closer the Delta T is to 0 the less Btu/hr you get. Getting this kind of CFM flow is easy if you use something like EXAIR’s Super Air Knife or Super Air Amplifier. These systems take a small amount of compressed air and entrain the surrounding ambient air to increase the volume to a large blast. Take a look at model number 120022 which is the 2” Super Air Amplifier, this unit can produce 1,023 CFM while only using 15.5 CFM at 80 psig. But when you get close to cooling the temperature down to that room temperature or below it gets much harder; which only means that the temperature of the air being used to cool needs to be dropped. Dropping the air temperature can only be accomplished by using outside means like air coolers or in this case EXAIR’s Vortex Tubes and Spot Coolers.

Vortex Tubes and Spot coolers have some limitations. Generally they are not thought of products that produce large volumes of air (even though we make them up to 150 SCFM). And they are best suited for smaller areas of cooling, spot cooling, if you will. However, EXAIR Vortex Tubes do have one key feature that can help compensate for the lack of volume. LOW TEMPERATURE! The vortex tube can produce temperatures lower than 0F while stile retaining a good portion of air volume from the inlet.

For example, let’s look at model number 3240 running at 100 psig with 70% of the air from the inlet exiting the cold side (aka 70% cold fraction). At 100 psig the 3240 will use 40 SCFM at the air inlet and will have a temperature drop of 71F. If the compressed air has a temperature of 70F that means you will be seeing a temperature of -1F. Also, when using the 70% cold fraction you will see 28 SCFM of cold air flow. Now let’s plug those numbers into the cooling power formula.

Btu/hr = 1.0746*(28 CFM)*(150F + 1F)

Btu/hr = 4543 Btu/hr

As you can see, using a small amount of compressed air you can still net you a good amount of cooling if the temperature is lower. All in all, the best option for cooling products down to temperatures that are above ambient temperatures is something that can produce a large volume of air. For small areas that require cooling the product down to temperatures to ambient temperature and below, use EXAIR’s Vortex Tube.

If you have questions about our Air Amplifiers and Vortex Tubes, or would like to talk about any of the quiet EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR or any Application Engineer.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Calculating CFM of Air Needed for Cooling

It’s easy to know that EXAIR’s vortex tubes can be used to cool down parts and other items, but did you know that our air knifes can be used to cool down these same things? It’s the same process that we do every day to cool down hot food by blowing on it. Every molecule and atom can carry a set amount of energy which is denoted by physical property called Specific Heat (Cp); this value is the ration of energy usually in Joules divided by the mass multiplied by the temperature (J/g°C). Knowing this value for one can calculate the amount of air required to cool down the object.

Starting out you should note a few standard values for this rough calculation; these values are the specific heat of Air and the specific heat of the material. Using these values and the basic heat equation we can figure out what the amount of energy is required to cool. The specific heat for dry air at sea level is going to be 1.05 J/g*C which is a good starting point for a rough calculation; as for the specific heat of the material will vary depending on the material used and the composition of the material.

If you have any questions about compressed air systems or want more information on any EXAIR’s of our products, give us a call, we have a team of Application Engineers ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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