The purpose of this paper is to study vortex tube performance characteristics and the use of vortex tubes to increase the total efficiency of power systems, especially micropower systems. A vortex tube is a device in which compressed air is made to swirl and separate into two low-pressure streams, one with higher temperature than the entry and the other lower. The lack of moving parts and electricity make the vortex tube attractive for a number of specialized applications where simplicity, robustness and reliability are desired. Vortex tubes are currently used for industrial cooling applications, separation technologies, and chemical analysis. It is well known that the temperature difference between the hot and cold sides of the vortex tube scales with the pressure drop. Also, at any pressure drop, the temperatures and flow rates are dependent on the flow fractions between the hot and cold sides. Data is available for large pressure drops, but this paper presents experimental results at low-pressure drops optimizing the operational modes for various applications. The micro-power systems under consideration include micro-turbines, which evolved out of automotive turbocharger technology. The use of vortex tubes in power systems has received some attention but the use of both the hot and cold streams has never been considered. In this work, we consider such dual use. As an example of an application, the vortex tube is considered in conjunction with a heat recovery steam generator (HRSG). The vortex tube splits the turbine exhaust flow into hotter and cooler streams. The cooler stream is still hot enough to supply all needed heat in the economizer section, leaving the hotter stream to increase the exit temperature from the superheater. In this way both the air leaving the HRSG and going to the steam turbine will have an increased enthalpy and cycle efficiencies are improved. In addition, steam turbine exit quality is increased.

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