Energy Separation And Lox Separation Studies In Vortex Tubes
Vortex Tube (VT) is a simple device having no moving mechanical parts, in which compressed gas at high pressure is injected through one or more tangential nozzles into a vortex chamber resulting in the separation of the inlet flow into two low pressure streams. One of the streams is the peripheral flow that is warmer than the inlet stream while the other is the central (core) flow that is colder than the inlet stream. This separation of the inlet flow into high and low temperature streams is known as temperature or energy separation. It is suggested by many investigators that compressed air of few atmospheres pressure and at room temperature can produce temperatures as high as +200ºC at the hot end (peripheral flow exit) and as low as -50ºC at the cold end (core flow exit) of the VT. Though VTs have large potential for simple heating and cooling applications, the mechanism of energy separation is not clear so far. Based on their studies, many investigators have suggested various theories, different from each other, but having specific lacunas and is an unresolved issue. Also, till date, experimental and industrial designs of the VTs are based purely on empirical correlations. Apart from heating and cooling applications, VTs can also be used for separation of binary gas mixtures and separation of oxygen from two-phase precooled air stream. The conceptual futuristic cryogenic launch vehicle designs are being attempted with in-flight liquid oxygen (LOX) collection system that significantly improves the pay load fraction. Vortex tube technology is one of the few promising technologies for futuristic in-flight LOX separation based launch vehicles. This technology has significant advantages over its counterparts as it is a simple, compact and light weight, and most importantly have no moving parts and unaffected by gravity and orientation. In order that VTs become an acceptable technology for in-flight LOX separation system, it is necessary to achieve minimum oxygen purity of 90% with more than 60% yield (separation efficiency) for the oxygen enriched stream in the VT. A survey of the available open literature has shown very little reported details, in particular, on achieving the required specifications for in-flight LOX separation systems. Till date, the highest LOX purity of 60% with 40% separation efficiency has been reported with VT technology. In view of the above mentioned facts, the work carried out has been focused on to: • Optimize the critical parameters of the VT to achieve maximum energy separation by CFD and experimental studies. • Understand the flow behaviour in the VT by estimating the velocity, temperature and pressure profiles at various locations in the VT and validation of secondary circulation flow and its effect on the performance of energy separation in VT. • Estimation of the energy transfer between the core and the peripheral layers of fluid flow in VT by analytical and CFD methods to propose the most appropriate mechanism of energy separation in VT. • Design and development of a dedicated experimental setup for both energy separation and LOX separation studies in VTs. • Design and fabrication of straight and conical VTs and experimental programme on energy separation and LOX separation. • Development of the VT air separation technology to achieve the required specifications of in-flight LOX separation system for futuristic launch vehicles. With these specific objectives and motivations, the total work was carried out with the following planned and sequential steps: • The first step was the CFD modeling of the VT with the available CFD software (Star-CD) and obtain the energy separation phenomena for a 12mm diameter VT. After gaining sufficient confidence level, optimization of the critical parameters like the air injection nozzle profile, number of nozzles, cold end orifice diameter dc, length to diameter (L/D) ratio, hot gas fraction etc of the VT was carried out through CFD and experimental studies. • The studies show that 6 convergent nozzles perform better in comparison to other configurations like circular helical, rectangular helical, 2 convergent and 6 straight nozzles. The studies also show that cold end orifice diameter (dc) plays an important role on energy separation and bring out the existence of secondary circulation flow with improper design of cold end orifice diameter. Through our studies, the effect of cold end diameter on the secondary circulation flow has been evaluated for the first time. Also, the mechanism of energy transfer in VT based on heat pump mechanism enabled by secondary circulation flow as suggested by some investigators has been evaluated in our studies. The studies show that cold end orifice diameter dc = 7mm is optimum for 12mm diameter VT, which matches fairly with the correlations given by other investigators. The studies confirms that CFD modeling carried out in this work is capable of selecting the correct dc value for a VT, without resorting to the empirical correlations as a design guide or a laborious experimental programme. • Through the CFD and experimental studies on different length to diameter (L/D) ratios and hot gas fractions, maximum hot gas temperature of 391K was obtained for L/D = 30 with hot gas fraction of 12-15 % and minimum cold gas temperature of 267K for L/D = 35 was obtained for cold gas fraction ≈ 60% (lowest cold gas fraction possible with the present experimental system). • CFD analysis has been carried out to investigate the variation of static and total temperatures, static and total pressures as well as the velocity components of the particles as it progresses in the flow field, starting from the entry through the nozzles to the exit of the VT by tracking the particles to understand the flow phenomenon and energy transfer mechanism inside the VT. The studies indicate that the mechanism of energy transfer from the core flow to the peripheral flow in VT is predominantly occurs by the tangential shear work. Thus the investigations reported in the thesis have given a clear understanding of the contributing mechanism for energy separation in VT, which has been an unresolved issue for long time. The net energy transfer between the core and the peripheral fluid has been calculated analytically and compared with the values obtained by CFD model for VTs of L/D ratios equal to 10 and 30. The net energy transfer by analytical and CFD model for VT with L/D = 10 is 159.87W and 154.2W respectively whereas the net energy transfer by analytical and CFD model for VT with L/D = 30 is 199.87W and 192.3W respectively. The results show that CFD results are in very good agreement with the analytical results and CFD can be used as a tool for optimization of the critical parameters and to analyze the flow parameters and heat transfer analysis for VTs. Also, the net energy transfer between the core and peripheral fluids calculated analytically matches very well with that of the net energy transfer by CFD analysis, without considering the effect of acoustic streaming. Thus acoustic streaming may not be the mechanism of energy separation in VT as suggested by some investigators. • By optimizing the critical parameters of the 12mm diameter straight VT through CFD and experimental studies, LOX separation studies have been carried out using both straight and conical VTs of dc = 7mm and of different L/D ratios for high LOX purity and separation efficiency. It is observed that conical (3º divergence) VTs perform better as compared to straight VTs for LOX separation whereas straight VTs perform better for energy separation. The better performance of conical VT as compared to straight VTs can be attributed to its increased surface area for condensation-evaporation phenomenon of oxygen and nitrogen molecules. Experimental studies have been conducted to evaluate the influence of the inlet pressure and the inlet temperature (liquid fraction) on LOX purity. Studies indicate that for achieving high LOX purity for the studied experimental system, the inlet pressure is to be in the range of 6-6.5bar and there exists a very narrow band of inlet temperature zone in which high LOX purity can be achieved. Experimental studies on VTs show that VT can be optimized suitably either for high LOX purity with low separation efficiency or low LOX purity with high separation efficiency by adjusting the hot end mass fraction accordingly. It is also observed that it is not possible to obtain both high purity and high separation efficiency simultaneously with the single VT. Staging approach has to be adapted to achieve higher LOX purity with higher separation efficiency. By staging the VTs, the enriched air stream (hot end outlet flow) from the first stage of VTs is introduced to the inlet of the second stage of VTs. Experimental studies have been conducted to evaluate the design parameters on staging of VTs. LOX purity of 48% with 89% separation efficiency has been achieved for conical first stage VT of L/D = 25. LOX purity of about 94% with separation efficiency of 84% has been achieved for 50% oxygen content at the inlet of the second stage VT. Similarly, LOX purity of 96% with separation efficiency of 73.5% has been achieved for 60% oxygen content at the inlet of the VT. This is the highest LOX purity and separation efficiency reported so far indicating that, conical VT of optimized diameter, L/D ratio and orifice diameter can yield the hot end flow very close to the target value of futuristic in-flight LOX separation based launch vehicles. The present investigation has focused the optimization of the critical parameters of VTs through CFD and experimental studies. It has also given an insight to the mechanism of energy transfer between the core and peripheral flow in VT by evaluating two of the existing theories on mechanism of energy transfer in VT. The studies also highlighted the fact that custom designed and precision fabricated VTs can be very useful for obtaining maximum / minimum temperatures of fluid flow as well as LOX separation with high purity and high separation efficiency needed for futuristic in-flight LOX separation based space launch vehicles.
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