Generators for the EXAIR Vortex Tubes

Vortex generator

The EXAIR Vortex Tubes use compressed air to generate cold air down to -50 deg. F (-46 deg. C) without any moving parts, freon, or electricity.  By design, it will produce hot air at one end and cold air at the other.  EXAIR offers different cooling capacities ranging from 135 BTU/hr (34 Kcal/hr) to 10,200 BTU/hr (2,570 Kcal/hr).  This cooling phenomenon begins by spinning the air at a high rate of speed inside the Vortex Tube.  The “separation” of temperatures starts at the generator.  In this blog, I will discuss the features of the generator and how our design allows for an efficient way to cool and heat the air flows.

Vortex Family

EXAIR stocks three different sizes of the Vortex Tubes; small, medium, and large.  Each Vortex Tube will use a generator to define the cooling capacity and compressed air usage.  When compressed air enters the Vortex Tube, it will have to pass through the generator first.  The generators are engineered with vane openings to initiate the spinning of the air and to control the amount of air that can pass through it.  As an example, for a medium-sized Vortex Tube, a model 10-R generator will only allow 10 SCFM (283 SLPM) of air at 100 PSIG (6.9 Bar).  While in that same size body, a model 40-R generator will allow 40 SCFM (1,133 SLPM) of air at 100 PSIG (6.9 Bar) to be used.  Precision in the design of the generators is what sets EXAIR apart with efficiency and effectiveness in cooling.

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

EXAIR created a chart to show the temperature drop for the cold end and temperature rise for the hot end, relative to the incoming compressed air temperature.  Across the top of the chart, we have Cold Fraction and along the side, we have the inlet air pressure.  The Cold Fraction is the percentage of the inlet air that will blow out the cold end of the Vortex Tube.  This is adjustable with a Hot Exhaust Air Valve at the hot end.

As you can see from the chart, the temperature difference changes as the Cold Fraction and inlet air pressure changes.  You may notice that it is independent of the size of the generator.  So, no matter which size Vortex Tube or generator is used, the temperature drop and rise will follow the chart above.  But just remember, cooling capacity is different than cooling temperature.  At the same settings, a larger generator will give you more mass of air to cool faster.

Now, let’s look inside the Vortex Tube (reference photo above).  As the compressed air passes through the generator, the change in pressure will create a powerful vortex.  This spinning vortex will travel toward one end of the tube where there is an air control valve, or Hot Air Exhaust Valve.  This valve can be adjusted to increase or decrease the amount of hot air that leaves the Vortex Tube.  The remaining part of the air is redirected toward the opposite end as the cold flow, or Cold Fraction.

Now, what separates EXAIR Vortex Tubes from our competitors are the three different styles of generators and two different materials for each size.  These generators are engineered to optimize the compressed air usage across the entire Cold Fraction chart above.  With temperatures above 125 oF (52 oC), EXAIR offers a brass generator for the Vortex Tubes.  The same precision design is applied but for higher ambient temperatures.  With the wide range of Vortex Tubes and generators, we can tackle many types of cooling applications.

If you would like to discuss your cooling requirement with an Application Engineer at EXAIR, we will be happy to help.  This unique phenomenon to generate cold air with no moving, freon, or electricity could be a great product to use in your application.

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

Applying a Vortex Tube and Adjusting Temperature

Throughout my tenure with EXAIR there are may days where I have tested different operating pressure, volumetric flow rates, back pressures, lengths of discharge tubing, generator compression, and even some new inquiries with cold air distribution all on a vortex tube.  These all spawn from great conversations with existing customers or potential customers on different ways to apply and applications for vortex tubes.

Many of the conversations start in the same spot… How exactly does this vortex tube work, and how do I get the most out of it?  Well, the answer is never the same as every application has some variation.  I like to start with a good idea of the area, temperatures, and features of exactly what we are trying to cool down.  The next step is learning how fast this needs to be done.  That all helps determine whether we are going to be looking at a small, medium, or large vortex tube and which cooling capacity to choose.   After determining these factors the explanation on how to adjust the vortex tube to meet the needs of the application begins.

This video below is a great example of how a vortex tube is adjusted and what the effects of the cold fraction have and just how easy it is to adjust.  This adjustment combined with varying the air pressure gives great versatility within a single vortex tube.

The table below showcases the test points that we have cataloged for performance values.  As the video illustrates, by adjusting the cold fraction lower, meaning less volumetric flow of air is coming out of the cold side and more is exhausting out the hot side, the colder the temperature gets.

EXAIR Vortex Tube Performance Chart

This chart helps to determine the best case scenario of performance for the vortex tube.  Then the discussion leads to delivery of the cold or hot air onto the target.  That is where the material covered in these two blogs, Blog 1, Blog 2 comes into play and we get to start using some math.  (Yes I realize the blogs are from 2016, the good news is the math hasn’t changed and Thermodynamics hasn’t either.)  This then leads to a final decision on which model of vortex tube will best suit the application or maybe if a different products such as a Super Air Amplifier (See Tyler Daniel’s Air Amplifier Cooling Video here.)is all that is needed.

Where this all boils down to is, if you have any questions on how to apply a vortex tube or other spot cooling product, please contact us.  When we get to discuss applications that get extremely detailed it makes us appreciate all the testing and experience we have gained over the years.  Also, it helps to build on those experiences because no two applications are exactly the same.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

 

Choosing the Right Vortex Tube – Max Refrigeration vs. Max Cold Temperature

The Vortex Tube is a low cost, reliable, maintenance free way to provide cooling to a wide variety of industrial spot cooling problems.

VT_air2

There are two (2) popular uses for the Vortex Tubes.  One is to spot cool a warm item as fast as possible.  The other is to chill an item to as low a temperature as possible. Because these are very different requirements, different Vortex Tube configurations exist to handle each.

For those applications of spot cooling, we recommend the 3200 series of Vortex Tubes. They are designed to be most efficient at providing maximum refrigeration, which is a function of high cold air flow rate and moderate temperature differential of the cold air to the warm item.

And for those applications of chilling an item to a very low temperature at low flow rate , we recommend the 3400 series of Vortex Tubes.  They are designed to be most efficient at providing maximum cold air temperatures, but with a lower cold air flow rate.

An important parameter for the Vortex Tubes is the Cold Fraction.  By adjusting the hot valve on a vortex tube, the amount of air that is discharged through the cold end changes. When expressed as a percentage of the total compressed air that is supplied to the vortex tube, we get the Cold Fraction.  For example, if the hot valve is adjusted so that for every 10 parts of compressed air supplied, we get 7 parts of cold air, then we have a 70% Cold Fraction. When you know the Cold fraction setting and the compressed air supply pressure, you can use the Vortex Tube Performance tables and get the cold air discharge temperature.

Using the table below left, at 100 PSIG compressed air pressure and a 70% Cold Fraction, we can expect the cold air discharge temperature drop to be 71°F.  With 70 ° compressed air temperature, the cold air will be at -1°F.

Vortex Tube Charts
Vortex Tube Performance Tables

The 3200 series of Vortex Tubes are for use in the 50-80% Cold Fraction range, and the model 3400 series is designed for use in the 20-50% Cold Fraction ranges, to maximize the performance of each.

In summary, the selection of the Vortex Tube that best meets the application needs is based on the desired cold air flow rate, and the temperature of air desired. Once these are known, using the tables can provide the information needed to select the best option.

For those applications where we are unsure what will work best, we offer the EXAIR Cooling Kits, that include a Vortex Tube (small, medium, or large) and an array of Generators, to allow the configuration of the full range of Vortex Tubes within each size family.

  • Model 3908 – Small Vortex Tube Cooling Kit – build models 3202, 3204, 3208, and 3402, 3404, 3408
  • Model 3930 – Medium Vortex Tube Cooling Kit – build models 3210, 3215, 3225, 3230, 3240, and 3410, 3415, 3425, 3430, 3440
  • Model 3998 – Large Vortex Tube Cooling Kit – build models 3250, 3275, 3298, 3299, and models 3450, 3475, 3498, 3499

3930

If you have questions about Vortex Tubes or any of the 16 different EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product lines, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
Send me an email
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Twitter: @EXAIR_BB

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 separation, he shelved his patented idea for several years.  In 1946, Rudolf Hilsch picked up this idea from Georges Ranque and “tweaked” 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 was a professor of physics at Erlangen, and in 1947, he published his paper of 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 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.

Inside 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.  As the vortex travels toward one end, a portion of that air will travel back through the center toward the opposite end.  (Reference animation above).  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 Freon.  You just have to supply a compressed gas.

EXAIR manufactures Vortex Tubes that utilize 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

The Theory of the Vortex Tube

There are many theories regarding the dynamics of a vortex tube and how it works. Many a graduate student has studied them as part of their research requirements.

VT_air2

The Vortex Tube was invented by accident in 1928, by George Ranque, a French physics student. He was performing experiments on on a vortex-type pump that he had developed and noticed that warm air exhausted from one end and cold air from the other! Ranque quickly stopped work on the pump, and started a company to take advantage of the commercial possibilities for this odd little device that produced both hot and cold air, using only compressed air, with no moving parts. The company was not successful, and the vortex tube was forgotten until 1945 when Rudolph Hilsch, a German physicist, published a widely read paper on the device.

A vortex tube uses compressed air as a power source, has no moving parts, and produces hot air from one end and cold air from the other. The volume and temperature of the two air streams is adjustable with a valve built into the hot air exhaust.  Temperatures as low as -50°F (-46°C) and as high as 260°F (127°C) are possible.

Here is one widely accepted explanation of the physics and the phenomenon of the vortex tube.VT

Compressed air is supplied to vortex tube and passes through nozzles that are tangent to to an internal counterbore (1). As the air passes through it is set into a spiraling vortex motion (2) at up to 1,000,000 rpm. The spinning stream of air flows down the hot tube in the form of a spinning shell, like a tornado (in red). The control valve (4) at the end allows some of the warmed air to escape (6) and what does not escape reverses direction and heads back down the tube as a second vortex (in blue) inside of the low pressure area of the larger warm air vortex. The inner vortex loses heat and exits the through the other end of as cold air (5).

It is thought that that both the hot and cold air streams rotate in the same direction at the same angular velocity, even though they are travelling in opposite directions. A particle of air in the inner stream completes one rotation in the same amount of time that an air particle in the outer stream. The principle of conservation of angular momentum would say that the rotational speed of the inner inner vortex should increase because the angular momentum of a rotating particle (L) is equal to the radius of rotation (r) times its mass (m) times its velocity (v).  L = r•m•v.  When an air particle moves from the outer stream to the inner stream, both its radius (r) and velocity (v) decrease, resulting in a lower angular momentum. To maintain an energy balance for the system, the energy that is lost from the inner stream is taken in by the outer stream as heat. Therefore, the outer vortex becomes warm and the inner vortex is cooled.

At EXAIR, we have harnessed the cooling power of the vortex tube, and it can be found and utilized in such products as Spot Coolers, Cabinet Coolers, and the Vortex Tube themselves.

Harnessing the cooling power of the vortex tube 

If you have questions about Vortex Tubes, or would like to talk about any of the EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Products, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or any of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer
Send me an email
Find us on the Web 
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Twitter: @EXAIR_BB

 

Vortex Tube Cooling Capacities and Generators

vortex_generator
Vortex  Medium Generator

Vortex Tube Generators are the internal component that controls the volume of air entering the Vortex Tube and ultimately the volume of cool/cold air produced.

Vortex family
Vortex Family

EXAIR manufactures three sizes of Vortex Tubes, small, medium & large.  Each size can produce a range of cooling power that can be changed by installing a different generator that will change the volume output capability of that Vortex Tube. The generators for small size vortex tubes can operate at 2, 4 or 8 SCFM (maximum cooling power of 550 BTU/HR),  generators for the medium size at 10, 15, 25, 30, or 40 SCFM (maximum cooling power of 2,800 BTU/HR) and the generators for the large size operate at 50, 75, 100 or 150 SCFM (maximum cooling power of 10,200 BTU/HR).  The Vortex Tube is sold with one generator installed.

The generators are marked with a number and a letter.  The number indicates the capacity (SCFM of air consumption) and the letter indicates the type of operation (“R” for maximum refrigeration or “C” for maximum cold temperature).  The maximum refrigeration (“R”) works best when the majority of the inlet air is exhausted out the cold end of the Vortex Tube. They work most efficiently with smaller temperature drops and larger volume of flow than the other generators. The maximum cold generators (“C”) can produce temperatures below 0°F, and work best when the minority of the inlet air is exhausted out the cold end of the Vortex Tube. The volume of cold air produced is less but you will experience greater temperature drops.

How A Vortex Tube Works

If a different cooling capacity is desired, other generators are available by either purchasing them individually or by purchasing one of the (3) highly versatile Vortex Tube Cooling Kits designated as the 3908 (small), 3930 (medium) or 3998 (large).  The Kits include the Vortex Tube, Filter Separator, Vinyl Tubing, Tubing Adapter, Tube Clamps, Cold End Muffler (Optional Hot End Muffler Available) and Both “R” & “C” Generators.

Vortex kit
EXAIR Medium Vortex Kit Includes: Vortex Tube, Filter Separator, Vinyl Tubing, Tubing Adapter, Tube Clamps, Cold End Muffler (Optional Hot End Muffler Available, Sold Separately) and Both “R” & “C” Generators (10, 15, 25, 30, or 40 SCFM).

If you would like to discuss Vortex Tubes, their Generators, or any of EXAIR’s safe, quiet & efficient compressed air products, I would enjoy hearing from you…give me a call.

Steve Harrison
Application Engineer
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Vortex Tubes: What is a Cold Fraction & How to use it to Your Benefit

Vortex Tubes

EXAIR has wrote many different articles about how Vortex Tubes work and the applications in which they are used.  The idea of making cold air without any freon or moving parts is a phenomenon.  This phenomenon can generate cold air to a temperature as low as -50 oF (-46 oC).  In this article, I will explain the adjustment of the Vortex Tube to get different temperatures and cooling effects in reference to the Cold Fraction.

To give a basic background on the EXAIR Vortex Tubes, we manufacture three different sizes; small, medium, and large.  These sizes can produce a range of cooling capacities from 135 BTU/hr to 10,200 BTU/hr.  The unique design utilizes a generator inside each Vortex Tube.  The generator controls the amount of compressed air that can enter into the Vortex Tube.  As an example, a medium-sized Vortex Tube, model 3240, will only allow 40 SCFM (1,133 SLPM) of compressed air to travel into the Vortex Tube at 100 PSIG (6.9 bar).  While a small-sized Vortex Tube, model 3208, will only allow 8 SCFM (227 SLPM) of compressed air at 100 PSIG (6.9 bar).  EXAIR manufactures the most comprehensive range from 2 SCFM (57 SLPM) to 150 SCFM (4,248 SLPM).

Vortex Tube Exploded View

After the compressed air goes through the generator, the pressure will drop to slightly above atmospheric pressure.  (This is the “engine” of how the Vortex Tube works).  The air will travel toward one end of the tube where there is an air control valve, or Hot Air Exhaust Valve.  This valve can be adjusted to increase or decrease the amount of air that leaves the hot end.  The remaining portion of the air is redirected toward the opposite end of the Vortex Tube, called the cold end.  By conservation of mass, the hot and cold air flows will have to equal the inlet flow as shown in Equation 1:

Equation 1: Q = Qc + Qh

Q – Vortex Inlet Flow (SCFM/SLPM)

Qc – Cold Air Flow (SCFM/SLPM)

Qh – Hot Air Flow (SCFM/SLPM)

Cold Fraction is the percentage of air that flows out the cold end of a Vortex Tube.  As an example, if the control valve of the Vortex Tube is adjusted to allow only 20% of the air flow to escape from the hot end, then 80% of the air flow has to be redirected toward the cold end.  EXAIR uses this ratio as the Cold Fraction; reference Equation 2:

Equation 2: CF = Qc/Q * 100

CF = Cold Fraction (%)

Qc – Cold Air Flow (SCFM/SLPM)

Q – Vortex Flow (SCFM/SLPM)

Vortex Tube Charts

EXAIR created a chart to show the temperature drop and rise, relative to the incoming compressed air temperature.  Across the top of the chart, we have the Cold Fraction and along the side, we have the inlet air pressure.  As you can see, the temperature changes as the Cold Fraction and inlet air pressure changes.  As the percentage of the Cold Fraction becomes smaller, the cold air flow becomes colder, but also the air flow becomes less.  You may notice that this chart is independent of the Vortex Tube size.  So, no matter the generator size of the Vortex Tube that is used, the temperature drop and rise will follow the chart above.

Vortex Tube Example

How do you use this chart?  As an example, a model 3240 Vortex Tube is selected.  It will use 40 SCFM of compressed air at 100 PSIG.  We can determine the temperature and amount of air that will flow from the cold end and the hot end.  The inlet pressure is selected at 100 PSIG, and the Hot Exhaust Valve is adjusted to allow for a 60% Cold Fraction.  Let’s use an inlet compressed air temperature to be 68 oF.  With Equation 2, we can rearrange the values to find Qc:

Qc = CF * Q

Qc = 0.60 * 40 SCFM = 24 SCFM of cold air flow

The temperature drop from the chart above is 86 oF.  If we have 68 oF at the inlet, then the temperature is (68 oF – 86 oF) = -18 oF.  So, from the cold end, we have 24 SCFM of air at a temperature of -18 oF.  For the hot end, we can calculate the flow and temperature as well.  From Equation 1,

Q = Qc + Qh or

Qh = Q – Qc

Qh = 40 SCFM – 24 SCFM = 16 SCFM

The temperature rise from the chart above is 119 oF.  So, with the inlet temperature at 68 oF, we get (119 oF + 68 oF) = 187 oF.  At the hot end, we have 16 SCFM of air at a temperature of 187 oF.

With the Cold Fraction and inlet air pressure, you can get specific temperatures for your application.  For cooling and heating capacities, these values can be used to calculate the correct Vortex Tube size.  If you need help in determining the proper Vortex Tube to best support your application, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR.  We will be glad to help.

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