Bifurcation Of Air – The Wonders of Science That Is The Vortex Tube

EXAIR has provided the benefits of vortex tube technology to the industrial world since 1983. Prior to that, French scientist George Ranque wrote about his discovery in 1928 calling it the tube tourbillion. But it wasn’t until German physicist Rudolf Hilsch’s research paper in 1945 on the wirbelrorhr or whirling tube, that the vortex tube entered the minds of commercial engineers. Nearly 60 years later, EXAIR is a leading provider for cooling products utilizing vortex tube technology.

More than 2,000 BTU/hr in the palm of your hand!

EXAIR Vortex Tubes produce a cold air stream down to -50° F and are a low cost, reliable, maintenance-free (there are no moving parts!) solution to a variety of spot cooling applications. These applications span a wide variety of industries and include cooling of electronic controls, soldered parts, machining operations, heat seals, environmental chambers, and gas samples. We’re always finding compelling new cooling opportunities for the vortex tubes.

How a Vortex Tube Works

So how does it produce the cooling stream? Compressed air is plumbed into the side port of the Vortex Tube where it is ejected tangentially into the internal chamber where the generator is located. The air begins flowing around the generator and spinning up to 1 million RPM toward the hot end (right side in the animation above) of the tube, where some hot air escapes through a control valve. Still spinning, the remaining air is forced back through the middle of the outer vortex. Through a process of conservation of angular momentum, the inner stream loses some kinetic energy in the form of HEAT to the outer stream and exits the vortex tube as COLD air on the other side.

The adjustable control valve adjusts what’s known as the cold fraction. Opening the valve reduces the cold air temperature and also the cold airflow volume. One can achieve the maximum refrigeration (an optimum combination of temperature and volume of flow) around an 80% cold fraction. EXAIR publishes performance charts in our catalog and online to help you dial into the right setting for your application, and you can always contact a real, live, Application Engineer to walk you through it.

EXAIR manufactures its vortex tubes of stainless steel for resistance to corrosion and oxidation. They come in small, medium and large sizes that consume from 2 to 150 SCFM and offer from 135 to 10,200 BTU/hr cooling capacity. Each size can generate several different flow rates, dictated by a small but key part called the generator. That generator can be changed out to increase or decrease the flow rate.

While operation and setup of an EXAIR Vortex Tube are easy, its performance will begin to  decrease with back pressure on the cold or hot air exhaust of over 3 PSIG. This is a key  when delivering the cold or hot airflow through tubes or pipes. They must be sized to minimize or eliminate back pressure.

The Vortex Tube is integrated into a variety of EXAIR products for specific applications, like the Adjustable Spot Cooler, the Mini Cooler, the Cold Gun Aircoolant System and our family of Cabinet Cooler Systems.

If you would like to discuss your next cooling application, please contact an Application Engineer directly and let our team lead you to the most efficient solution on the market.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

People of Interest: Rudolf Hilsch

Vortex Tubes

The EXAIR Vortex Tubes use compressed air to generate a cold air stream at one end and a hot air stream at the other end.  The history behind this phenomenon is rooted in the Ranque-Hilsch tube.

In 1931, a French physicist, Georges Ranque, tried to use a cyclone vortex to separate iron filings from the air.  He noticed that when he capped one end with a slight opening, the air would become very warm.  Being disappointed with the design flaw, he shelved his patented idea for several years.  In 1946, Rudolf Hilsch picked up this idea from Georges Ranque and refined the design.  This product has now become known as the Vortex Tube.  In this blog, I will cover Rudolf Hilsch as a person of interest.

Rudolf Hilsch was born in December 18th, 1903 in Hamburg, Germany and died on May26th, 1972.  In 1927, Rudolf received his doctorate at the age of 24.  In 1938, he worked with a colleague, Robert Pohl, to create one of the first working semiconductor amplifier.   From 1941 to 1953, Hilsch became a professor of physics at Erlangen, and in 1947, he published his paper on the Ranque-Hilsch tube which he called the “Wirbelrohr”, or whirl pipe.  This publication became well known and was the start of the Vortex Tube.

To expand a bit more into his publication, the design for spinning the air at a high rate of speed can produce a separation of temperatures.  It starts with a generator to help facilitate a vortex action.  As the vortex travels toward one end, a portion of that air will travel back through the center toward the opposite end.  (Reference picture below).  As these two vortices interact, conservation of momentum forces the inner vortex to give off energy in a form of heat to the outer vortex.  This separation of temperatures will give you a hot air stream and a cold air stream.  This type of device can do this without any moving parts or refrigerant.  You just have to supply a compressed gas.

To continue on with his career, in 1953, he became a full member of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.  Also, at that same time, he started teaching physics at the Physics Institute of the Georg August University of Göttingen well into the 1960s.

EXAIR manufactures Vortex Tubes that utilizes this phenomenon with compressed air.  We stock units with cooling capacities up to 10,200 BTU/hr and can reach temperatures from -50oF to +260oF (-46oC to +127oC).  So, thank you Mr. Ranque and Mr. Hilsch for creating a product to generate hot and cold air in a single unit.  If you would like to discuss any applications where cooling or heating is needed, you can talk with one of our Application Engineers.  We will be happy to help.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

Vortex Tubes: What, Why, Where?

The most common questions about Vortex Tubes are “How long have they been around?” and “How do they work?”. These questions are simple enough and answering someone how long Vortex Tubes have been around is the easy answer, Vortex Tubes have been around since 1928 with what may seem as an accidental existence by the developer George Ranque.

As to how they work, these are a phenomenon of physics and the theoretical math behind them has yet to be proven and set in stone. They have been called various names such as “Maxwell’s Demon” which posited that a demon was splitting the hot and cold air molecules prior to leaving the Vortex Tube.  They have also been referred to as  the “Ranque Vortex Tube”, “Hilsch Tube”, and the “Ranque-Hilsch Tube” which highlight some of the prominent people in developing vortex tubes. 

WHAT: EXAIR defines a Vortex Tube within our catalog as “a low cost, reliable, maintenance free solution to a variety of industrial spot cooling problems. Using an ordinary supply of compressed air as a power source, vortex tubes create two streams of air, one hot and one cold, with no moving parts.”

The scope of Vortex Tubes include being able to produce temperatures from -50 degrees to 260 degrees Fahrenheit with flow rates from 1 to 150 SCFM and refrigeration up to 10,200 Btu/hr. Temperatures, flows and cooling power can be easily adjusted with the control valve located on the “hot” end of the tube.

WHY: EXAIRs’ Vortex Tubes offer low cost and reliable solutions primarily for product cooling and sometimes heating. Constructed of stainless steel, our vortex tubes are resistant to corrosion and oxidation providing for years of reliable maintenance-free operation. Vortex tubes operate with a source of compressed air with no moving parts or electricity.

EXAIR offers two series of vortex tubes. The 32XX series is “Maximum Refrigeration (cooling) and is typically used for process cooling, part cooling or chamber cooling. The 34XX series provide lowest cold temperatures at low cold airflow and typically used in cooling lab samples and circuit testing.

EXAIR offers a cooling kit with interchangeable generators that are easily changed so you can experiment and find what temperature and airflow works best for your application.

WHERE: There are many uses for EXAIR Vortex Tubes including but not limited to cooling electronics, machining operations, CCTV cameras, soldered parts, gas samples, heat seals, environmental chambers, ultrasonic weld horns, welds and setting hot melts.

The history of EXAIR Vortex Tubes and the variety of uses has derived new products designed for specific applications like our Spot Coolers and Cabinet Coolers. These items can be found in our catalog or at www.EXAIR.com.

If you have any questions regarding these products or any products that EXAIR offers I hope to hear from you.

Eric Kuhnash
Application Engineer
E-mail: EricKuhnash@exair.com
Twitter: Twitter: @EXAIR_EK

Vortex Tubes: What is a Cold Fraction?

Have you ever needed a source of cold air but don’t want to invest in a costly chiller? INTRODUCING Vortex Tubes! Vortex Tubes use compressed air and contain no moving parts to create a cold and hot stream of air from either end of the device. Using the valve located on the hot stream a vortex tube can achieve temperatures as low as -50°F (-46°C) and temperatures as high as 260°F (127°C).

When the vortex tube is supplied with compressed air the air flow is directed into the generator that causes spin into a spiraling vortex at around 1,000,000 rpm. This spinning vortex flows down the neck and wall of the hot tube. The control valve located on the end of the hot tube allows a fraction of the hot air to escape and what does not escape reverses direction and travels back down the center of the tube and exhausts out of the cold end. Inside of the low-pressure area of the larger outer warm air vortex, the inner vortex loses heat as it flows back to the cold end of the vortex and as it exits the vortex expels cold air. The absolute temperature drop that occurs during this process is going to be controlled by the cold fraction of the Vortex Tube and the supply pressure.

The brass screw used to control the cold fraction of a vortex tube

The cold fraction is defined as the amount of the inlet supply air that will exit out of the cold end of the vortex tube. An example would be if I had 10 SCFM supplied to a vortex tube with 60% cold fraction, then 6 SCFM would be exiting the cold discharge. Cold based on the amount of air you allow out of the hot end of the vortex tube you can control the temperature drop of the cold air. A smaller cold fraction which only allows a small amount of air to exit the cold discharge will result in a larger temperature drop; and vise versa a larger cold fraction will result in a much smaller temperature drop.

Table the shows the temperature drop and rise in correlation with the cold fraction and pressure

Here a EXAIR we have designed our vortex tubes to operate optimally at both a high cold fraction and a low cold fraction. The 32XX series designed to give you the best refrigeration, which means it will work well for cold fractions ~60% – 80%. This will give you a smaller temperature drop with more air flow which allows you to keep things cool much easier. This contrasts with the 34XX series which is designed more optimal performance at lower temperatures; this means the optimal cold fraction would be ~20% to 40%. Cold fractions this low will produce very little air flow but the temperature will be very cold (as low as -50°F). This is useful if you need to get an item down to a very low temperature.

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

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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