Vortex tube

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(In vorticity dynamics, a 'vortex-tube' is also a surface in the fluid formed by all the vortex-lines passing through a given reducible closed curve drawn in the fluid - see George Batchelor's book, section 2.6)

The vortex tube, also known as the Ranque-Hilsch vortex tube, is a heat pump with no moving parts. Pressurized gas is injected into a specially designed chamber. The chamber's internal shape, combined with the pressure, accelerates the gas to a high rate of rotation (over 1,000,000 rpm). The gas is split into two streams, one giving kinetic energy to the other, and resulting in separate flows of hot and cold gases.

The vortex tube was invented in 1930 by French physicist Georges J. Ranque. German physicist Rudolf Hilsch improved the design and published a widely read paper in 1945 on the device, which he called a Wirbelröhre (literally, vortex tube).

Vortex tubes have lower efficiency than traditional air conditioning equipment. They are commonly used for inexpensive spot cooling, when compressed air is available. Commercial models are designed for industrial applications to produce a temperature drop of about 80 °F (45 °C).

Another application is for uranium enrichment. South Africa used vortex tubes in their Helikon Vortex Separation method.

Dave Williams, of Engineers Without Borders, has proposed using vortex tubes to make ice in third-world countries. Although the technique is inefficient, Williams hopes it could yield helpful results in areas where using electricity to create ice is really not an option.

They are

  1. Powered by compressed air, utilizing a vortex tube to generate cold air without freon or other refrigerants (CFCs/HCFCs)
  2. Exceptionally reliable, no moving parts to break or wear
  3. Low maintenance
  4. Lower efficiency than many refrigerant-based systems

See also


  • G. Ranque, Expériences sur la Détente Giratoire avec Prodctions Simultanées d'un Echappement d'air Chaud et d'un Echappement d'air Froid, J. de Physique et Radium 4(7)(1933) 112S.
  • Rudolf Hilsch, The Use of the Expansion of Gases in A Centrifugal Field as Cooling Process, The Review of Scientific Instruments, vol. 18(2), 108-1113, (1947). translation of an article in Zeit. Naturwis. 1 (1946) 208.
  • H. C. Van Ness, Understanding Thermodynamics, New York: Dover, 1969, starting on page 53. A discussion of the vortex tube in terms of conventional thermodynamics.
  • Mark P. Silverman, And Yet it Moves: Strange Systems and Subtle Questions in Physics, Cambridge, 1993, Chapter 6
  • C. L. Stong, The Amateur Scientist, London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1962, Chapter IX, Section 4, The "Hilsch" Vortex Tube, p514-519.
  • J. J. Van Deemter, On the Theory of the Ranque-Hilsch Cooling Effect, Applied Science Research 3, 174-196.

External links

vortec tube

The Vortex Tube uses compressed air to produce clod air for industial spot cooling.
Produce clean,cold air at -40 below supply air temperature
Instant cold air in environmental chambers
Compact and lightweight,maintenance free units
Stainless steel construction
No coolant,no eletricity or chemicals
Low cost application
Cooling during the machining of metals,plastics,wood,frubber,ceramics and other materialsCool manufacturing processes ,electronic and electrical cabinet,environmental chambers,workers wearing protective gear

Vortex Tube History

I was surprised to see claims that the vortex tube was invented in 1930!! I first came across it in a very early edition of the Machinerys Handbook (1906 - 1910 edition approx.) In there it explained how it worked and that it was commonly used to chill the rubber overalls used by deep-miners in the Cornwall (?) coal mines because it would not present any dangers with methane ignition, provided fresh, cool air for breathing and cooling and could be driven from the low-pressure compressed air systems then in use at around 100psi for the power drills.

I subsequently built several of them using standard hydraulic fittings and aluminium tubing. The best one had an annular chamber feeding four angled jets into the 'spin'chamber at 100 psi. We got snow from the cold end and 350 degrees celsius from the hot end. The noise was appalling! So I shut it up with a jam tin full of close-packed steel wool to the point where it was just bearable. The hot pipe had definite 'node-points'of hot and cold spots and it was necessary to adjust either feed pressure or hot-bleed off to position the hot node exactly at the hot exit point for best effect. We had nothing that could measure the cold end temp but it would literally freeze your fingers in seconds. (great for chilling a hot bottle of beer!!)
This device ended its days as a crude air-conditioner on my Father's farm tractor in the West Australian wheatbelt in the 1970's where its noise was drowned out by the noisy diesel engine.

R. Shannon

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