Rudolf Hilsch, Shining a Light on the Vortex Tube

The Vortex Tube is also known as the Ranque – Hilsch tube is a device that takes a single source of compressed gas and splits it into two streams a hot and a cold. The Vortex Tube was invented in 1933 by French physicist Georges J. Ranque, however his findings never really went main stream until Physicist Rudolf Hilsch improved the design and published a widely read paper in 1947 on the device, which he called a Wirbelrohr. (Original publication in German can be found here.)

The Original drawing from Rudolf Hilsche’s 1947 Publication.

Compressed air is supplied into the tube where it passes through a set of nozzles that are tangent to the internal counter-bore. The design of the nozzles force the air to spin in a vortex motion at speeds up to 1,000,000 RPM. The spinning air turns 90° where a valve at one end allows some warmed air to escape. What does not escape, heads back down the tube in the inner stream where it loses heat and exhausts through the other end as cold air.

How a Vortex Tube Works

Both streams rotate in the same direction and at the same angular velocity. Due to the principle of conservation of angular momentum, the rotational speed of the inner vortex should increase. However, that’s not the case with the Vortex Tube. The best way to illustrate this is in Olympic Figure Skating. As the skater is wider, the spinning motion is much slower. As she decreases her overall radius, the velocity picks up dramatically and she spins much quicker. In a Vortex Tube, the speed of the inner vortex remains the same as it has lost angular momentum. The energy that is lost in this process is given off in the form of heat that has exhausted from the hot side of the tube. This loss of heat allows the inner vortex to be cooled, where it can be ducted and applied for a variety of industrial applications.

This Vortex Tube theory is utilized in basic Vortex Tubes, along with a variety of other products that have additional features specific for your application. EXAIR’s line of Cabinet CoolersCold GunsAdjustable Spot CoolersMini Coolers, and Vortex Tubes all operate off of this same principle.

If you’re fascinated by this product and want to give it a try, EXAIR offers an unconditional 30-day guarantee. We have them all in stock and ready to ship as well, same day with an order received by 2:00 ET. Feel free to get in contact with us if you’d like to discuss how a vortex-based product could help you in your processes.

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer

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Rudolf Hilsche’s Publication Drawing provided by Die Zeitschrift für Naturforschung

(Photo Link https://zfn.mpdl.mpg.de/data/1/ZfN-1946-1-0208.pdf )

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

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

Real Heroes of Science: Rudolf Hilsch

Rudolf Hilsch helped to advance vortex tube technology into what it is today.

If you look into the history or even the definition of a vortex tube, you’re likely to find mention of a physicist named Rudolf Hilsch.  Born December 18th, 1903, Hilsch was a German physicist, professor, and manager of the Physics Institute of the George August University of Göttingen.  He received a doctorate degree by the age of 24 and spent his career furthering the advancement and understanding of numerous phenomena of physics.

Although Hilsch didn’t invent the Vortex Tube (the original inventor was a physicist by the name of Georges J. Ranque), he is entwined with their history thanks to a paper he published in 1947.  According to lore, this paper significantly changed the understanding and performance capabilities of the vortex tube, eventually being marked as the precursor for identifying a vortex tube as a real potential cooling device. (I’ve made attempts to find this 1947 publication properly translated into English, but to no avail.  If you have it or find it, please email it to me at LeeEvans@EXAIR.com! (Original publication in German can be found here.)

Given that vortex tubes are a known EXAIR solution, it seems reasonable that today, on Hilsch’s birthday, we give recognition to this influential physicist and his mark on thermodynamic fluid flow technology.  And, although we at EXAIR are connected to Hilsch through vortex tubes, everyone alive has been influenced by his work.  This is because Hilsch and a partner (physicist Robert Wichard Pohl) constructed the first semiconductor amplifier in 1938, prompting Hilsch to prove (in 1939) that solid-state electronics are possible.  This work paved the way for transistor and solid-state electronics technology as we know it today.  Without Hilsch and his life’s work, not only would we not have vortex tubes, we likely would have any electronic devices we use every day.

Here’s to you Rudolf Hilsch.  Thank you for your work, your discoveries, and your achievements.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE