Skip

We're gonna be like three little Fonzies here.
March 5, 2012 10:19 PM   Subscribe

The Wirbelrohr! (aka, the Ranque-Hilsch Vortex Tube) You put a stream of air in, you get a hot stream and a cold stream out. Invented in 1930, there are no moving parts and no electricity supplied.

It can be used for small applications like cooling a steam suit. It can cool electrical enclosures or computers. How does it work? No one is 100% sure. But you can make your own.
posted by ctmf (27 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool!
posted by lee at 10:30 PM on March 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, hot!
posted by Burhanistan at 10:32 PM on March 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Whoah, that is exceptionally cool. All you need is a source of compressed air and a fair bit of noise tolerance for amazingly cold air.

You know, if they'd figured this out in the Renaissance, they could have had ubiquitous ice and air conditioning hundreds of years ago, with no need for all the complexity of heat pumps. Just some noise dampening and a place to dump the hot air will give you all the cold you want.

Presumably, you could do it the other way as well, giving off heat in cold weather.

I wonder if you could use something like this for home heating/cooling, and how the efficiency would stack up to a heat pump?
posted by Malor at 10:35 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never knew the full name of these things, all I ever heard them refered to as was "vortex tubes". Thanks for teaching me something, ctmf.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:40 PM on March 5, 2012


Don't know about heat pumps, but the Wikipedia link says the efficiency of a vortex tube is lower than traditional air conditioning equipment. It's a very elegant and long lasting device, but the power it would take to keep blowing air through the tube would be considerable.
posted by Kevin Street at 10:42 PM on March 5, 2012


Can I make tornadoes with it?

Just little ones. I don't need them to be large, just alarming.
posted by louche mustachio at 10:42 PM on March 5, 2012 [12 favorites]


trompe
posted by hortense at 11:02 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can this effect be made human powered? More precisely, do we need compressed-air levels of input to get significant temperature differentials, or can foot powered bellows be enough?
posted by effugas at 12:21 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hortense identified a trompe as a low-tech way of compressing air. This trompe produced 862.5 kPa, which is much higher than the 551kPa used by this guy. He achieved temperatures of 44.8°C (112°F) at the hot end and -13°C (8.6°F) at the cold end.

Seriously, a cost-free way of producing ice without moving parts? If someone had discovered this back in the day it would have kicked off the Industrial Revolution even faster than a technique for sending pornography via semaphore.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:04 AM on March 6, 2012 [8 favorites]


I love this kind of technology. Post-apocalypse, I'm gonna knock together one of these things in my secret lair.
posted by Harald74 at 1:42 AM on March 6, 2012


I'm bringing a trompe and a wirbelrohr with me in my time machine. The Italian Renaissance is going to plotz over this.
posted by the painkiller at 2:47 AM on March 6, 2012 [9 favorites]


This is so stupidly cool. And hot.

I couldn't help it, but honestly, I enjoy this divergence onto a track of physics I knew nothing about. The trompe in Ontario is maybe the coolest damn thing I've read about it weeks.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:30 AM on March 6, 2012


Seriously, a cost-free way of producing ice without moving parts?

Compressing air costs energy.
posted by empath at 4:12 AM on March 6, 2012


>Seriously, a cost-free way of producing ice without moving parts?

I can't find a link but can't you put water into a clay bowl in summer, and the evaporation will remove heat and freeze the water?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 5:34 AM on March 6, 2012


I can't find a link but can't you put water into a clay bowl in summer, and the evaporation will remove heat and freeze the water?
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey 15 minutes ago [+]


You can't, actually. I made one of these 'coolers', two clay flower pots, wet sand between (wet enough that the outer pot was damp to the touch), put it in an area with maximal evaporative opportunity, and I got a 20 deg. Fahrenheit difference.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:53 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Buy one here!
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:55 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone hAve any idea how loud one of these things are?
posted by Freen at 5:58 AM on March 6, 2012


I have used these in the past for cooling industrial equipment enclosures (computers, data acquisition etc) and one problem I found was that the cool air was VERY humid- the process didn't remove water vapor from the air, and as the temp lowered the relative humidity went way up. We eventually had to replace about forty of them with standard air conditioners. Lesson learned.
And yeah, they're fairly noisy. And they do use lots of high-pressure air.
posted by drhydro at 6:31 AM on March 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've used them in two applications - both breathing air supply. One was the steam suit in the post. The vortex tube was about thumb diameter and about two thumbs long. Made kind of a hissing sound, not very loud. Since you're supplying compressed air to the suit anyway, may as well cool it. I used to sit and stare at that thing, not being allowed to take it apart, trying to figure out HOW in the FUCK could that possibly work - what could be in that tube to do that? Drove me nuts.

The other time was wearing an air-fed respirator hood and plastic anti-contamination suit. When you're essentially wearing a plastic bag over your entire body including head, the cool air is nice. Unless you're doing it in an un-insulated plywood shack while it's snowing outside and the vortex cooler is not under your control. I ended up alternating between kinking the air line to stop the flow and let some body heat build up, then letting air flow for a minute to get some fresh air, repeat...

The big air-fed hood vortex cabinet had moisture separators downstream of the vortex tube. I'm sure there's quite a loss in efficiency over a conventional refrigerant-based air conditioner, but in life-support systems like that, simple is good.
posted by ctmf at 7:18 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


I wound up in a rabbithole learning about the Windhexe device, which starts out similarly but uses the high RPM air flow to pulverise anything that's put into it.

Here it is turning jars and cans and chicken byproducts into dust. Brief video schematic of operation. Milling whole wheat into flour. Vortex Dehydration presently owns the IP, though not much seems to be happening with it lately.

A summary on PESWiki. The patent.

Not much seems to be happening with this tech right now, so I'd guess that other processes are simply more efficient. I remember reading somewhere in the too many links I've looked at this morning that the blower for the test version of the machine wanted 200kwh.

The inventor seems to like to rub his fingers in the output of the machine. I eventually found the inevitability of his hand finding its way into every shot to be vaguely creepy.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:20 AM on March 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hey! I worked on a small project trying to figure out how exactly this worked.

We couldn't figure it out.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:54 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Revenge of Maxwell's Demon?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2012


I couldn't resist buying one of these to play with. The downside is that you need serious tolerance for noise. They are too loud. There is a silencer attachment that helps a bit, and seems to be suspiciously re-purposeable.

It's a T shape made from pipes, where room temperature air goes in the middle, and hot and cold air come out the other two ways. Turning a sleeve device on it allows one to select a lot of cool air, or just a little cold air.

Related devices from the same vendor include focused blow-off nozzles, and a cylinder that takes air in the side tube, which induces flow through the larger tube that has no fan blades or any other obstructions. One application for those is a network of tubes that pump cigarettes to the central quality control building. They have also been used to shoot trinkets into audiences.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:12 AM on March 6, 2012


My understanding of how they work, is that the air is made to perform a 180 degree "crack the whip" maneuver. The warmer molecules have enough energy to make it around the flip, but the colder molecules that have less energy, like their human roller-skating counterparts, are sent flying off the other way.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:17 AM on March 6, 2012


I wonder what would happen if you attached one of the outputs to a splitter and pushed half of it back through the device with the new incoming compressed air.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:42 AM on March 6, 2012


I wonder what would happen if you attached one of the outputs to a splitter and pushed half of it back through the device with the new incoming compressed air.

Armageddon.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 1:14 PM on March 6, 2012


...Or could you chain multiple tubes together? So you get either supercooled air or superheated plasma?
posted by ianso at 5:17 AM on March 7, 2012


« Older This ain't your granny's harmonium   |   Dogs (1976) Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post