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Vortex tube

Separation of a compressed gas into a hot stream and a cold stream The vortex tube, also known as the Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube, is a mechanical device that separates a compressed gas into hot and cold streams. t has no moving parts. !ressuri"ed gas is in#ected tangentiall$ into a swirl chamber and accelerates to a high rate of rotation. %ue to the conical no""le at the end of the tube, onl$ the outer shell of the compressed gas is allowed to escape at that end. The remainder of the gas is forced to return in an inner vortex of reduced diameter within the outer vortex. There are different explanations for the effect and there is debate on which explanation is best or correct. &hat is usuall$ agreed upon is that the air in the tube experiences mostl$ 'solid bod$ rotation', which simpl$ means the rotation rate (angular velocit$) of the inner gas is the same as that of the outer gas. This is different from what most consider standard vortex behaviour * where inner fluid spins at a higher rate than outer fluid. The (mostl$) solid bod$ rotation is probabl$ due to the long time which each parcel of air remains in the vortex * allowing friction between the inner parcels and outer parcels to have a notable effect. t is also usuall$ agreed upon that there is a slight effect of hot air wanting to 'rise' toward the center, but this effect is negligible * especiall$ if turbulence is kept to a minimum. +ne simple explanation is that the outer air is under higher pressure than the inner air (because of centrifugal force). Therefore the temperature of the outer air is higher than that of the inner air. ,nother explanation is that as both vortices rotate at the same angular velocit$ and direction, the inner vortex has lost angular momentum. The decrease of angular momentum is transferred as kinetic energ$ to the outer vortex, resulting in separated flows of hot and cold gas.-./ This is somewhat analogous to a !eltier effect device, which uses electrical pressure (voltage) to move heat to one side of a dissimilar metal #unction, causing the other side to grow cold.

&hen used to refrigerate, heat0sinking the whole vortex tube is helpful. Vortex tubes can also be cascaded. The cold (or hot) output of one can be used to pre0cool (or pre0heat) the air suppl$ to another vortex tube. 1ascaded tubes can be used, for example, to produce cr$ogenic temperatures.


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2istor$ 4fficienc$ !roposed applications 7eferences o 6.. 8urther readings 9 See also : 4xternal links

The vortex tube was invented in .;55 b$ 8rench ph$sicist <eorges =. 7an>ue. <erman ph$sicist 7udolf 2ilsch improved the design and published a widel$ read paper in .;6? on the device, which he called a Wirbelrohr (literall$, whirl pipe).-3/ Vortex tubes also seem to work with li>uids to some extent.-5/

Vortex tubes have lower efficienc$ than traditional air conditioning e>uipment. The$ are commonl$ used for inexpensive spot cooling, when compressed air is available. 1ommercial models are designed for industrial applications to produce a temperature drop of about 69 @1 (AB @8).

Proposed applications

%ave &illiams, of dissigno, has proposed using vortex tubes to make ice in third0 world countries. ,lthough the techni>ue is inefficient, &illiams expressed hope that vortex tubes could $ield helpful results in areas where using electricit$ to create ice is not an option. There are industrial applications that result in unused pressuri"ed gases. Csing vortex tube energ$ separation ma$ be a method to recover waste pressure energ$ from high and low pressure sources.-6/

.. ^ 0 Vortex tube theor$ 3. ^ D7udolf 2ilsch, The Cse of the 4xpansion of <ases in , 1entrifugal 8ield as 1ooling !rocess, The Review of Scientific Instruments, vol. .A(3), .BA0...5, (.;6?). translation of an article in Zeit. Naturwis. . (.;6:) 3BA.

5. ^ 7.T. Ealmer. !ressure0driven 7an>ue02ilsch temperature separation in li>uids. Trans. ,SF4, =. 8luids 4ngineering, ..B:.:.G.:6, =une .;AA. 6. ^ Sachin C. Himbalkar, %r.F.7. Fuller. Ctili"ing waste pressure in industrial s$stems. 4nerg$: production, distribution and conservation, ,SF40,T 3BB:, Filan

Further readings

<. 7an>ue, 4xpIriences sur la %Itente <iratoire avec !roductions SimultanIes dJun 4chappement dJair 1haud et dJun 4chappement dJair 8roid, J. de Physique et Radium 6(?)(.;55) ..3S. 2. 1. Van Hess, nderstandin! Thermodynamics, Hew Kork: %over, .;:;, starting on page 95. , discussion of the vortex tube in terms of conventional thermod$namics. Fark !. Silverman, "nd #et it $oves% Stran!e Systems and Subtle &uestions in Physics, 1ambridge, .;;5, 1hapter : 1. L. Stong, The "mateur Scientist, London: 2einemann 4ducational Eooks Ltd, .;:3, 1hapter M, Section 6, The '2ilsch' Vortex Tube, p9.609.;. =. =. Van %eemter, +n the Theor$ of the 7an>ue02ilsch 1ooling 4ffect, "''lied Science Research 5, .?60.;:. Saidi, F.2. and Valipour, F.S., '4xperimental Fodeling of Vortex Tube 7efrigerator', =. of ,pplied Thermal 4ngineering, Vol.35, pp..;?.0.;AB, 3BB5. F. Nurosaka, ,coustic Streaming in Swirling 8low and the 7an>ue02ilsch (vortex0 tube) 4ffect, =ournal of 8luid Fechanics, .;A3, .36:.5;0.?3 F. Nurosaka, =.O. 1hu, =.7. <oodman, 7an>ue02ilsch 4ffect 7evisited: Temperature Separation Traced to +rderl$ Spinning &aves or JVortex &histleJ, !aper , ,,0A30 B;93 presented at the , ,,/,SF4 5rd =oint Thermoph$sics 1onference (=une .;A3) <ao, 1hengming. ()'erimental Study on the Ranque*+ilsch ,orte) Tube. 4indhoven : Technische Cniversiteit 4indhoven. SEH ;B05A:035:.09.

ee also

&indhexe 2elikon vortex separation process

External lin!s

Vortex Tubes 0 %iagram of Vortex Tube 2ow to 1ontact the manufacturer. <. =. 7an>ueJs C.S. !atent -./ 0 Hex 8low ,ir !roducts 1orp., vortex tube details with animation on how it works 0 ,i7TM nternational, how vortex tubes work Tim 1ockerillJs pages on the 7an>ue02ilsch Vortex Tube, including his .;;9 1ambridge Cniversit$ thesis on the sub#ect, and a mailing list. 2ow to Fake ce +ut of Thin ,ir: 1ool 2eat Transfer, %aren 8onda, Sep. 6, 3BB9, Time Faga"ine. (7e>uires membership) +berlin college ph$sics demo 0 Fanufacturer of vortex tubes, information page The 2ilsch Vortex Tube 0 +nline cop$ of the Scientific "merican article b$ 1. L. Stong

2ome0brew vortex tube made from off0the0shelf parts 0 %avid EuchanJs 7an>ue0 2ilsch effect tube pro#ect using onl$ off0the0shelf plumbing parts ari" 0 Vortex tube uses and how do the$ work Webmaster's notes: It has recently been suggested to me that credit for this article should be given to C. L. Stong who wrote most of the "Amateur Scientist" columns for "Scientific American" maga ine. I had recieved it as a co!y of a co!y from a friend of a friend etc... "ne day a bunch of years ago when this thing called the "World Wide Web" got !o!ular# I decided to ma$e this website. It has become sur!risingly !o!ular. I have never actually built one of these# myself. If anyone actually %"&S build one based on this information# I'd certainly love to hear about it. I do $now they are commercially available from several manufacturers. I'm sure your favorite search engine can hel! you find them. '( )an *((+ ,eader -ene L. has sent me the following note regarding the origins of this article. .he /ilsch tube came u! in discussion at our last 0alley1etal home sho! machinist club meeting here in 2hoeni3. I mentioned the article from Scientific American# which was re!roduced in C.L. Stong's boo$# ".he Scientific American 4oo$ of 2ro5ects for the Amateur Scientist#" !!. 67896*(# !ublished by Simon and Schuser# :;# 7<=(. .he original article was !ublished in Scientific American# :ovember 7<6># !. 86. .hese references are easily located on the web# and I thin$ it would be fair if you included them on your web !age. .han$s# and I a!!reciate your re!roducing the article. .he illustrations were by ,oger /ayward# a 2asadena architect and amateur astronomer who wor$ed with Albert -. Ingalls and ,ussell W. 2orter# !redecessors of C.L. Stong with Scientific American. Stong too over after Ingalls death. 2orter was the amateur astronomer# architect# and designer who did the wonderful cutaways of the *(( inch 2alomar telesco!e# and illustrated Ingalls' columns in Scientific American. /ayward re!laced 2orter in that ca!acity. /is e3cellent illustrations were used in a number of te3tboo$s !ublished by ?reeman Co.# in !articular# chemistry te3tboo$s by %r. Linus 2auling and o!tics boo$s by %r. )ohn Strong.


With nothing more than a few pieces of plumbing and a source of compressed air, you can build a remarkably simple device for attaining moderately low temperatures. It separates high-energy molecules from those of low energy. George O. Smith, an engineer of umson, !. I., discusses its theory and construction "he #$th century %ritish physicist &ames 'lerk (a)well made many deep contributions to physics, and among the most significant was his law of random distribution. 'onsidering. the case of a closed bo) containing a gas, (a)well started off by saying that the temperature of the gas was due to the motion of the individual gas molecules within the bo). %ut since the bo) was standing still, it stood to reason that the summation of the velocity and direction of the individual gas molecules must come to *ero.

In essence (a)well+s law of random distribution says that for every gas molecule headed east at ,- miles per hour, there must be another headed west at the same speed. .urthermore, if the heat of the gas indicates that the average velocity of the molecules is ,- miles per hour, the number of molecules moving slower than this speed must be e/ualed by the number of molecules moving faster. 0fter a serious analysis of the conse/uences of his law, (a)well permitted himself a touch of humor. 1e suggested that there was a statistical probability that2 at some time in the future, all the molecules in a bo) of gas or a glass of hot water might be moving in the same direction. "his would cause the water to rise out of the glass. !e)t (a)well suggested that a system of drawing both hot and cold water out of a single pipe might be devised if we could capture a small demon and train him to open and close a tiny valve. "he demon would open the valve only when a fast molecule approached it, and close the valve against slow molecules. "he water coming out of the valve would thus be hot. "o produce a stream of cold water the demon would open the valve only for slow molecules. (a)well+s demon would circumvent the law of thermodynamics which says in essence3 45ou can+t get something for nothing.4 "hat is to say, one cannot separate cold water from hot without doing work. "hus when physicists heard that the Germans had developed a device which could achieve low temperatures by utili*ing (a)well+s demon, they were intrigued, though obviously skeptical. One physicist investigated the matter at first hand for the 6. S. !avy. 1e discovered that the device was most ingenious, though not /uite as miraculous as had been rumored.

It consists of a "-shaped assembly of pipe 7oined by a novel fitting, as depicted in .igure ,89. when compressed air is admitted to the 4leg4 of the ", hot air comes out of one arm of the " and cold air out of the other arm: Obviously, however, work must be done to compress the air. "he origin of the device is obscure. "he principle is said to have been discovered by a .renchman who left some early e)perimental models in the path of the German 0rmy when .rance was occupied. "hese were turned over to a German physicist named udolf 1ilsch, who was working on low temperature refrigerating devices for the German war effort. 1ilsch made some improvements on the .renchman+s design, but found that it was no more efficient than conventional methods of refrigeration in achieving fairly low temperatures. Subse/uently the device became known as the 1ilsch tube.

"he 1ilsch tube may be constructed from a pair of modified nuts and associated parts as shown in .igure ,8;. "he hori*ontal arm of the "-shaped fitting contains a specially machined piece, the outside of which fits inside the arm. "he inside of the piece, however, has a cross section which is spiral with respect to the outside. In the 4step4 of the spiral is a small opening which is connected to the leg of the " "hus air admitted to the leg comes out of the opening and spins around the one-turn spiral. "he 4hot4 pipe is about #9 inches long and has an inside diameter of half an inch. "he far end of this pipe is fitted with a stopcock which can be used to control the pressure in the system <see .ig. ,8=>.

"he 4cold4 pipe is about four inches long and also has an inside diameter of half an inch. "he end of the pipe which butts up against the spiral piece is fitted with a washer, the central hole of which is about a /uarter of an inch in diameter. Washers with larger or smaller holes can also be inserted to ad7ust the system. "hree factors determine the performance of the 1ilsch tube2 the setting of the stopcock, the pressure at which air is admitted to the no**le, and the si*e of the hole in the washer. .or each value of air pressure and washer opening there is a setting of the stopcock which results in a ma)imum difference in the temperature of the hot and cold pipes <see .ig. ,8?>.

When the device is properly ad7usted, the hot pipe will deliver air at about #-- degrees .ahrenheit and the cold pipe air at about -?- degrees @a temperature substantially below the free*ing point of mercury and approaching that of 4dry ice4A. When the tube is ad7usted for ma)imum temperature on the hot side, air is delivered at about 8;- degrees .. It must be mentioned, however, that few amateurs have succeeded in achieving these performance e)tremes. (ost report minimums on the order of -#- degrees and ma)imums of about B #9- on the first try. Cespite its impressive performance, the efficiency of the 1ilsch tube leaves much to be desired. Indeed, there is still disagreement as to how it works. 0ccording to one e)planation, the compressed air shoots around the spiral and forms a high-velocity vorte) of air. (olecules of air at the outside of the vorte) are slowed by friction with the wall of the spiral. %ecause these slow-moving molecules are sub7ect to the rules of centrifugal force, they tend to fall toward the center of the vorte). "he fast-moving molecules 7ust inside the outer layer of the vorte) transfer some of their energy to this layer by bombarding some of its slow-moving molecules and speeding them up. "he net result of this process is the accumulation of slow-moving, low-energy molecules in the center of the whirling mass, and of high-energy, fast-moving molecules around the outside. In the thermodynamics of gases the terms 4high energy4 and 4high velocity4 mean 4high temperature.4 So the vorte) consists of a core of cold air surrounded by a rim of hot air. "he difference between the temperature of the core and that of the rim is increased by a secondary effect which takes advantage of the fact that the temperature of a given /uantity of gas at a given level of thermal energy is higher when the gas is confined in a small space than in a large one2 accordingly when gas is allowed to e)pand, its temperature drops. In the case of the 1ilsch tube the action of centrifugal force compresses the hot rim of gas into a compact mass which can escape only by flowing along the inner wall of the 4hot4 pipe in a compressed state, because its flow into the cold tube is blocked by the rim of the washer. "he amount of the compression is determined by the ad7ustment of the stopcock at the end of the hot pipe. In contrast, the relatively cold inner core of the vorte), which is also considerably above atmospheric pressure, flows through the hole in the washer and drops to still lower temperature as it e)pands to atmospheric pressure obtaining inside the cold pipe.

0pparently the inefficiency of the 1ilsch tube as a refrigerating device has barred its commercial application. !onetheless amateurs who would like to have a means of attaining relatively low temperatures, and who do not have access to a supply of dry ice, may find the tube useful. when properly made it will deliver a blast of air ,times colder than air which has been chilled by permitting it simply to e)pand through a Denturi tube from a high-pressure source. "hus the 1ilsch tube could be used to /uick- free*e tissues for microscopy, or to chill photomultiplier tubes. %ut /uite apart from the tube+s potential application, what could be more fun than to trap (a)well+s demon and make him e)plain in detail how he manages to blow hot and cold at the same timeE Incidentally, this is not a pro7ect for the person who goes in for commercially made apparatus. So far as I can discover 1ilsch tubes are not to be found on the market. 5ou must make your own. !or is it a pro7ect for the e)perimenter who makes a speciality of building apparatus from detailed specifications and drawings. "he dimensions shown in the accompanying figures are only appro)imate. 'ertainly they are not optimum values. %ut if you en7oy e)ploration, the device poses many /uestions. What would be the effect, for e)ample, of substituting a divergent no**le for the straight one used by 1ilschE Why not create the vorte) by impeller vanes, such as those employed in the stator of turbinesE Would a spiral chamber in the shape of a torus improve the efficiencyE What ratio should the diameter of the pipes bear to the vorte) chamber and to each otherE Why not make the spiral of plastic, or even plastic woodE One can also imagine a spiral bent of a strip of brass and soldered into a conventional pipe coupling. Coubtless other and far more clever alternatives will occur to the dyed-in-the-wool tinkerer.