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.

Mini Spot Cooler cooling down a bit used in milling plastic

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.

EXAIR Air Amplifiers use a small amount of compressed air to create a tremendous amount of air flow.

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.

Sub-zero air flow with no moving parts. 3400 Series Vortex Tubes from EXAIR.

For example, lets look at model number 3240 running at 100 psig with 70% of the air from the inlet exiting the cold side. 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 only 28 SCFM flow out of the vortex tubes cold side. 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 anything that requires cooling the product down to temperatures around ambient temperature and below, use a 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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Vortex Tubes Cool a UV Scanner

Copper smelting furnace

Safety is important when it comes to gas furnaces; and with large ovens, equipment is used to protect workers and equipment.  A copper company was using natural gas for smelting, and they had a UV scanner to monitor the flames.  If the burners go out, the scanner will turn off the gas valves to stop a potential explosion.   As with many instruments, it is important to keep the electronics cool for proper measurements.  In this case, they were having issues with accuracy from the high heat.  They contacted EXAIR for a solution. 

Air path flow for UV scanner

With their UV scanner, it was designed for a “cooling” device already.  This was basically compressed air that would blow around the instrument.  Because of the location, the compressed air was heating up to 125oF (52oC).  This heat would not cool the scanner properly, and it was causing unreliable readings and premature shutdowns.  They gave me the design specifications, and the scanner required 3.2 SCFM (90 SLPM) of air at atmospheric pressure with a maximum of 77oF (25oC).  I mentioned that we had the perfect solution to keep the UV scanner cool and operational; the EXAIR Vortex Tube.   This product can take elevated temperatures of compressed air and reduce it to lower temperatures.   It is a low cost, reliable, maintenance-free solution that uses compressed air to produce cold air as low as -50oF (-46oC).  With a range of cooling capacities from 135 BTU/hr to 10,200 BTU/hr, I was sure that we could meet the requirements for proper cooling. 

To determine the correct size, I had to look at the temperature drop and the flow requirement.  The temperature had to decrease from the 125oF (52oC) incoming compressed air to at least 77oF (25oC).  This would equate to a 48oF (27oC) temperature drop.  The other requirement was the amount of air flow, 3.2 SCFM (90 SLPM).  With the chart below, I see that we are able to get a 52oF (29oC) temperature drop at a 70% Cold Fraction and 40 PSIG (2.8 bar) inlet pressure.  EXAIR Vortex Tubes are very adjustable to get different outlet temperatures by changing the inlet pressure and the Cold Fraction.  The Cold Fraction (CF) is the amount of air that will be coming out the cold end.  With a 70% CF, that means that the adjusting screw on the hot end of the Vortex Tube is turned to allow 70% of the incoming compressed air to go out the cold end.  So, with that information, we can size to the correct model. 

In comparing the above information to the catalog data at 100 PSIG (6.9 bar), we have to consider the difference in absolute pressures.  With an atmospheric pressure of 14.5 PSIG (1 bar), the equation looks like this:

Qv = (Qc / CF) * (Pc + 14.5 PSIA) / (Ps + 14.5 PSIA)

Qv – Catalog Vortex Tube flow (SCFM)

Qc – Cold Air Flow (SCFM)

CF – Cold Fraction

Pc – Catalog Pressure – 100 PSIG

Ps – Supply Pressure – PSIG (Chart above)

From this equation, we can solve for the required Vortex Tube: 

                Qv = (3.2 SCFM / 0.7) * (100 + 14.5 PSIA) / (40 + 14.5 PSIA) = 9.6 SCFM. 

In looking at the catalog data, I recommended our model HT3210 Vortex Tube which uses 10 SCFM of compressed air at 100 PSIG.  The HT prefix is for our High Temperature models for use in temperatures in the range of 125oF to 200oF (52oC to 93oC).  So, after installing, the Vortex Tube was able to supply 73oF (23oC) air at a flow of 3.3 SCFM (94 SLPM); keeping the UV scanner reading correctly and accurately. 

Sometimes compressed air by itself is not enough to “cool” your instruments.  The EXAIR Vortex Tubes can reduce the temperature of your compressed air to very cold temperatures.  If you believe that your measuring equipment is being affected by elevated temperatures like the company above, you can contact an Application Engineer at EXAIR to find the correct solution for you. 

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

Choosing Max Refrigeration Or Max Cold Temp Vortex Tubes

Vortex Tubes have been studied for over 90 years. These “phenoms of physics” and the theory behind them have been discussed on this blog before. But, when it comes to the practical use of a Vortex Tube it is good to discuss how to correctly select the model that may be needed in your application. The reason being, there are different flow rates and an option for maximum refrigeration or maximum cold temperature.

The tendency is to say, well I need to cool this down as far as possible so I need the coldest air possible, give me the maximum cold temperature. More times than not, the maximum cold temperature model is not the best solution for your application because maximum cooling power and maximum cold temperature are not the same thing.  A maximum cold temperature Vortex Tube is best for spot cooling processes that require greater than 80F temperature drop covering a small area – spot cooling at its finest. Theis very cold air is delivered in a low volume. A maximum cooling power Vortex Tube is the best mix of cold temperature and volume of flow. This cold air (50F-80F temperature drop) is delivered at higher volumes which has the ability to remove more heat from certain processes. If you do not know which is bets for your application, follow these next steps. 

The first step, is to call, chat, or email an Application Engineer so that we can best outfit your application and describe the implementation of the Vortex Tube or spot cooling product for you. You may also want to try and take some initial readings of temperatures. In a perfect world you would be able to supply all of the following information to us, but recognizing how imperfect it all is…some of this information could go a long way toward a solution. The temperatures that would help to determine how much cooling is going to be needed are listed below:

Part temperature:
Part dimensions:
Part material:
Ambient environment temperature:
Compressed air temperature:
Compressed air line size:
Amount of time desired to cool the part:
Lastly desired temperature:

With these bits of information, we can use standard cooling equations to determine what temperature of cold air stream and volume of air is needed in order to produce the cooling and your desired outcome. To give an idea of some of the math we have used, check out this handy educational video of how Newton’s law of cooling was used to calculate the amount of time it takes to cool down a room temp beverage in an ice cold refrigerator. 

If you would like to discuss a cooling application, heating application, or any point of use compressed air application, contact an Application Engineer today.

Brian Farno
Application Engineer
BrianFarno@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_BF

1 – ThinkWellVids – Newton’s Law of Cooling – Feb. 27, 2014 – retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y8X7AoK0-PA

Ultraviolet Curing and Vortex Tube Cooling

Recently EXAIR worked on a project to cool down parts that were using Ultraviolet (UV) light to cure a surface coating. Ultraviolet curing is a photochemical process that uses UV light to cure/dry certain inks, coatings, and adhesives. Due to the fact that UV light produces a good amount of heat the product would heat up during the curing process and create issues for them down the line which slowed down production in order let them cool. The simple solution to this was the use of the vortex tube to blow on the product to cool it down during the process. By doing so they were able cool the product down to a suitable temperature for the process to speed up.

EXAIR’s Small, Medium, and Large Vortex Tubes


EXAIR’s Vortex Tubes are great for cooling down surfaces to temperatures below ambient thanks to the cold air stream that is produced from the vortex tube. Vortex tubes use a source of compressed air to create both a hot and cold stream of air simultaneously which allows the unit to be used for cooling but also heating applications. The amount of air flow coming out of either end of the Vortex Tube can be controlled; by doing so one can adjust the temperature of the air streams coming out.

There are numerous methods to distribute the cold air flow from a lone, or a series of, Vortex Tubes.

Although the main application for the Vortex Tube is to be used for cooling, it is occasionally used to heat as well. Heating applications are uncommon, but they are still possible. Since a vortex tube creates a cold and hot stream of air; by controlling what the fraction of air is flowing out of the cold end you can create a temperature rise (a rise from the starting air temp) of up to 195F! Now that is hot.

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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