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.

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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
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Controlling Temperature and Flow in a Vortex Tube

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A few weeks ago, we looked at the Vortex Tube and provided a general overview of the device (see that blog here.)  In a nutshell – a Vortex Tube uses an ordinary supply of compressed air as a power source, creating two streams of air, one hot and one cold – resulting in a low cost, reliable, maintenance free source of cold air for spot cooling solutions.

One of the features of the Vortex Tube is that the temperature of the cold air and the cold air flow rate is changeable. The cold air flow and temperature are easily controlled by adjusting the slotted valve in the hot air outlet.

Vortex Tube Hot Valve Adjustment
Hot Valve Adjustment for a Vortex Tube

Opening the valve (turning it counterclockwise) reduces the cold air flow rate and the lowers the cold air temperature.  Closing the valve (turning it clockwise) increases the cold air flow and raises the cold air temperature.

VT Adjustment Table

As with anything, there is a trade off – to get higher a cold air flow rate, a moderate cold air temperature is achieved, and to get a very cold air temperature, a moderate air flow rate is achieved.

An important term to know and understand is Cold Fraction, which is the percentage of the compressed air used by the Vortex Tube that is discharged through the Cold End.  In most applications, a Cold Fraction of 80% produces a combination of cold flow rate and and cold air temperature that results in the maximum refrigeration or cooling output form a Vortex Tube.

For most industrial applications – such as process cooling, part cooling, and chamber cooling, maximum refrigeration is best and the 32XX series of Vortex Tubes are preferred.  For those applications where ‘cryogenic’ cooling is needed, such as cooling lab samples, or circuit testing, the 34XX series of Vortex Tube is best.

To set a Vortex Tube to a specific temperature, simply insert a thermometer into the cold air exhaust and adjust the hot valve.  Maximum refrigeration, at 80% Cold Fraction, is achieved when the cold air temperature drop is 50°F (28°C) from the incoming compressed air temperature. See the video posted here for measuring and lowering and the cold air temperature.

For those cases when you may be unsure of the required cold air flow rate and cold air temperature to provide the needed cooling in an application, we would recommend an EXAIR Cooling Kit.  The Cooling Kit contains a Vortex Tube, Cold Air Muffler, Air Line Filter, and a set of Generators that will allow for experimentation of the full range of air flows and temperatures possible.

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EXAIR Vortex Tube Cooling Kit

To discuss your application and how a Vortex Tube or any 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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Vortex Tube Overview

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A Vortex Tube uses an ordinary supply of compressed air as a power source, creating two streams of air, one hot and one cold – resulting in a low cost, reliable, maintenance free source of cold air for spot cooling solutions.

The EXAIR Vortex tubes are made of stainless steel, which provides resistance to wear, corrosion and oxidation – ensuring years of reliable, maintenance free operation

How_A_Vortex_Tube_Works

The cold air flow and temperature are easily controlled by adjusting the slotted valve in the hot air outlet.  Opening the valve reduces the cold air flow and the cold air temperature.  Closing the valve increases the cold air flow and and the cold air temperature.

EXAIR Vortex Tubes come in three sizes. Within each size, a number of flow rates, which are dictated by a small internal generator, are available. Selection of the appropriate Vortex Tube can be achieved either by knowing the BTU/hr (Kcal/hr) requirements or the desired flow and temperature requirements. Selection is then based on the specification table (BTU/hr or Kcal/hr is known) or the performance tables (flow and temperature is known.)

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Vortex Tube Specification Tables

 

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Vortex Tube Performance Tables

The performance of a Vortex Tube is reduced with back pressure on the cold air exhaust. Low back pressures up to 2 PSIG ( 0.1 Bar) will not change performance and a 5 PSIG (0.3 Bar) will change the temperature drop by approximately 5°F (2.8°C)

The use of clean air is essential, and filtration of 25 microns or less is recommended.  EXAIR offers filters with 5 micron elements and properly sized for flow.

A Vortex Tube provides a temperature drop to the incoming supply air.  High inlet temperatures will result in a corresponding rise in the cold air temperature.

EXAIR offers mufflers for both the hot and cold air discharge.  If the cold air is ducted, muffling may not be required.

For best performance, operation at 80 to 110 PSIG (5.5 to 7.6 Bar) of supply pressure is recommended. The Vortex Tubes have a maximum pressure rating of 250 PSIG (17.2 Bar) and a minimum requirement of 20 PSIG (1.4 Bar)

To discuss your application and how a Vortex Tube or any 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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Cool Small Parts and Tools, with Clean, Cold Air

Do you need a proven way to reduce downtime and increase productivity on a variety of operations involving small parts where heat is a problem?  EXAIR‘s Mini Cooler produces a stream of 20°F (-7°C) cold air to prevent heat build up and blow away chips and debris.

Especially effective on high speed operations, the Mini Cooler helps to prevent burning, melting, and heat related breakage, and while doing so, at a quiet 76 dBA sound level. Better yet, all done with no moving parts to wear out.

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Mini Cooler Cooling a Small Mill Operation

Some popular applications for the Mini Cooler are – small tool cooling, needle cooling, blade cooling, and lens grinding.

There are several advantages to take note of – low cost, increased production rates, better tolerances, and quiet and compact.

minicoolerWFAM_500

The Mini Cooler Systems are available with One or Two Cold Outlets, and also include a 1″ wide Flare Nozzle Tip, and a Manual Drain Air Filter to clean the air, ensuring long, trouble free operation.

Using just 8 SCFM of 100 PSIG compressed air, the Mini Cooler will not tax your compressed air system.  Its small size allows it to fit in areas where larger systems could not fit.  The powerful magnetic base sticks to any ferrous surface and and provides up to 100 pounds of pull force.

If you have any questions about the Mini Cooler, the Adjustable Spot Cooler, Cold Gun or any EXAIR compressed air product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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High Temperature Vortex Tube for Sensor Cooling

Last year I worked with a power company that was having issues with Position Feedback Sensors overheating causing erroneous readings and early failures.  The sensors were located above a steam turbine, and the ambient temperatures reached 128°F with spikes to 140-150°F.  The customer had called in looking for a way to keep the sensors cool, using minimal compressed air, and in a robust package.  After reviewing the details, we recommended the High Temperature Vortex Tube, model HT3210.  While using just 10 SCFM of 100 PSIG compressed air, the HT3210 provides 8 SCFM of cold air at a temperature drop of 54°F from the supply air temperature.  Bathing the sensor with this cool air keeps prevents it from heating up and has eliminated the bad readings and prevented the early failures.

The customer recently implemented the same fix for another set of sensors.

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Power Generation Process, with (3) Position Feedback Sensors
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Position Feedback Sensor

The High Temperature Vortex Tube is a special Vortex Tube offering from EXAIR that utilizes a brass generator and hi-temp seal for use in ambient temperatures up to 200°F.  Simply supply clean, dry compressed air, and get cold air starting at 50-54°F lower than the supply air temperature.  With sizes ranging from 2 to 150 SCFM, there is a Vortex Tube that will meet most applications.

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High Temperature Vortex Tube

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

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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EXAIR’s Adjustable Spot Cooler: A Versatile Tool for Your Cooling Needs!

 

If you’re looking at replacing messy coolant mist systems, look no further than the Adjustable Spot Cooler. EXAIR’s Adjustable Spot Cooler incorporates Vortex Tube technology to produce temperatures ranging from -30°F – +70°F. A Vortex Tube works by imparting a rapid spinning motion to the supplied compressed air. This airflow makes its way to the end of the tube where it is forced to abruptly change directions. It is during this change of direction that energy is given off in the form of heat. The hot air then exits the tube from the hot end, while cold air exits the other end of the tube. As the valve is opened to allow more air to exhaust from the hot end, the temperature at the cold end will decrease. At a sound level of just 73 dBA when operated at 100 psig and stock generator installed, this compact cooler will keep your operation cool, clean and dry without causing unnecessarily high noise levels.

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Critical tolerances are maintained on plastic parts using the Adjustable Spot Cooler

 

When looking at a Vortex Tube based solution, the variety of options can sometimes be daunting. This is where the versatility of the Adjustable Spot Cooler shines. Through a simple turn of the control knob, you can easily adjust the temperature and cold fraction of the unit. Additionally, the kits come with (2) extra generators (15-H and 30-H) that can be swapped out for the stock generator for more/less cooling power and air consumption. The 15-H generator will deliver up to 1,000 Btu/hr of cooling capacity and the 30-H will provide up to 2,000 Btu/hr of cooling capacity. We have (2) different kits available, the Model 3825 Single Point and the Model 3925 Dual Point Kit. The 3825 is recommended for use in applications where you’re cooling a small surface such as solder joints, hot melts, or drilled plastics. The 3925 system is better served when heat is generated over a larger surface area such as saw blade cooling. The kits use flexible Loc-Line hose to allow you to precisely position the cold airflow onto your target. The Adjustable Spot Cooler provides easy mounting with a swivel magnetic base, allowing you to mount the cooler directly at the most critical point that heat is being generated.

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If you’re tired of cleaning up your coolant or have an application that requires dry machining, get one of the Adjustable Spot Cooler systems on order today. They’re in stock ready to ship!

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
E-mail: TylerDaniel@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Video Blog: Medium Vortex Tube Cooling Kit

EXAIR offers (3) Vortex Tube Cooling Kits, and the video below will provide an overview of the medium size offering, for refrigeration up to 2800 BTU/hr (706 Kcal/hr.)

If you have questions regarding Vortex Tube Cooling Kits or any EXAIR Intelligent Compressed Air® Product, feel free to contact EXAIR and myself or one of our Application Engineers can help you determine the best solution.

Brian Bergmann
Application Engineer

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