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

Battling Heat Transfer

If you haven’t read many of my blogs then this may be a surprise. I like to use videos to embellish the typed word. I find this is an effective way and often gives better understanding when available.  Today’s discussion is nothing short of benefiting from a video.

We’ve shared before that there are three types of heat transfer, more if you go into sub-categories of each. These types are Convection,  Conduction, and Radiation. If you want a better understanding of those, feel free to check out Russ Bowman’s blog here.  Thanks to the US Navy’s nuclear power school, he is definitely one of the heat transfer experts at EXAIR.  If you are a visual learner like myself, check out the video below.

The Application Engineering team at EXAIR handles any call where customers may not understand what EXAIR product is best suited for their application. A good number of these applications revolve around cooling down a part, area, electrical cabinet, or preventing heat from entering those areas.  Understanding what type of heat transfer we are going to be combating is often helpful for us to best select an engineered solution for your needs.

Other variables that are helpful to know are:

Part / cabinet dimensions
Material of construction
External ambient temperature
If a cabinet, the internal air temperature
Maximum ambient temperature
Desired temperature
Amount of time available
Area to work with / installation area

Understanding several of these variables will often help us determine if we need to look more towards a spot cooler that is based on the vortex tube or if we can use the entrained ambient air to help mitigate the heat transfer you are seeing.

If you would like to discuss cooling your part, electrical cabinet, or processes, EXAIR is available. Or if you want help trying to determine the best product for your process contact us.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Video Source: Heat Transfer: Crash Course Engineering #14, Aug 23, 2018 – via CrashCourse – Youtube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK7G6l_K6sA

Heat Transfer – 3 Types

When you have two objects and they are of different temperatures, we know from experience that the hotter object will warm up the cooler one, or conversely, the colder object will cool down the hotter one.  We see this everyday, such as ice cooling a drink, or a fan cooling a person on a hot day.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that heat (energy) transfers from an object of a higher temperature to an object of a lower temperature. The higher temperature object has atoms with higher energy levels and they will move toward the lower energy atoms in order to establish an equilibrium. This movement of heat and energy is called heat transfer. There are three common types of heat transfer.13580963114_f222b3cdd9_z

Heat Transfer by Conduction

When two materials are in direct contact, heat transfers by means of conduction. The atoms of higher energy vibrate against the adjacent atoms of lower energy, which transfers energy to the lower energy atoms, cooling the hotter object and warming the cooler object. Fluids and gases are less heat conductive than solids (metals are the best heat conductors) because there are larger distances between atoms.  Solids have atoms that are closer together.

Heat Transfer by Convection

Convection describes heat transfer between a surface and a liquid or gas in motion. The faster the fluid or gas travels, the more convective heat transfer that occurs. There are two types of convection:  natural convection and forced convection. In natural convection, the motion of the fluid results from the hot atoms in the fluid moving upwards and the cooler atoms in the air flowing down to replace it, with the fluid moving under the influence of gravity. Example, a radiator puts out warm air from the top, drawing in cool air through the bottom. In forced convection, the fluid, air or a liquid, is forced to travel over the surface by a fan or pump or some other external source. Larger amounts of heat transfer are possible utilizing forced convection.

Heat Transfer by Radiation

Radiation refers to the transfer of heat through empty space. This form of heat transfer does not require a material or even air to be between the two objects; radiation heat transfer works inside of and through a vacuum, such as space. Example, the radiation energy from the sun travels through the great distance through the vacuum of space until the transfer of heat warms the Earth.

EXAIR‘s engineered compressed air products are used every day to force air over hot surfaces to cool, as well as dry and/or blow off hot materials. Let us help you to understand and solve your heat transfer situations.

To discuss your application and how an EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air Product can improve your process, feel free to contact EXAIR, myself, or one of our other Application Engineers. We can help you determine the best solution!

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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The picture “Energy Transfer – Heat” by Siyavula Education is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Heat Recovery from an Air Compressor

On the whole most of us are quite aware of the considerable savings that can be accomplished by wise use and recovery of energy.   One way that a plant can save substantially is to capture the energy that an electric motor adds to the compressed air from the air compressor.  As much as 80% to 93% of the electrical energy used by an industrial air compressor is converted to heat.  A properly designed heat recovery system can capture anywhere between 50% to 90% of this energy and convert it to useful energy.

The heat recovered is sufficient in most cases to use in supplemental ways such as heating water and space heating, however generally there is not enough energy to produce steam directly.

IngersollRand_R-series-R110
Ingersoll Rand Rotary Screw Compressor

 

Packaged air cooled rotary screw compressor lend themselves easily to heat recovery, supplemental heating or other hot air uses very well due to their enclosed design.  Since ambient air is directed across the compressors aftercooler and lubricant cooler where the heat can be easily collected from both the compressed air and the lubricant.

Packaged coolers are normally enclosed cabinets that feature integral heat exchangers and fans.  This type of system only needs ducting and an additional fan to minimize back pressure on the air compressors cooling fan.  This arrangement can be controlled with a simple thermostat operated vent on a hinge and when the extra heat is not required it can be ducted outside the facility.

The recovered energy can be used for space heating, industrial drying, preheating aspirated air for oil burners or  other applications requiring warm air.  Typically there is approximately 50,000 Btu/Hr of energy available from each 100 SCFM of capacity (at full load).  The temperature differential is somewhere between 30°F – 40°F above the air inlet temperature and the recovery efficiency is commonly found to be 80% – 90%.

We all know the old saying there is “no free lunch” and that principle applies here.  If the supply air is not from outside the plant a drop in the static pressure could occur in the compressor cabinet thereby reducing the efficiency of the compressor.  If you choose to use outside air for makeup, you might need some return air to keep the air above freezing to avoid compressor damage.

Heat recovery is generally not utilized with water cooled compressors since an extra stage of heat exchange is required and the efficiency of recovering that heat is normally in the 50% – 60% range.

To calculate annual energy savings:

Energy Savings (Btu/Yr) = 0.80 * compressor bhp * 2,545 Btu/bhp-hour * hours of operation.

If we consider a 50 HP compressor:

.080 * 50bhp * 2,545 Btu/bhp-hour * 2080 hrs/year =  211,744,000 Btu/yr

Where 0.80 is the recoverable heat as a percentage of the units output, 2,545 is the conversion factor.

Cost savings in dollars per year = [(energy savings in Btu/yr)/Btu/fuel) x ($/unit fuel)]/primary heater efficiency.

If you would like to discuss saving money by reducing compressed air demand and/or any EXAIR product,  I would enjoy hearing from you…give me a call.

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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Photo courtesy of Ingersoll Rand CC BY 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32093890