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## Intercoolers – Explained

Engine performance parts improve supercharger performance…

I’m putting together a guide on how to select the exact engine performance parts that meet your target power requirements. Basically, I want to take all the guesswork out of tuning and save money so you don’t have to do things over and over again.

When I was looking into buying the right intercooler, I was honestly at a loss. There you will find two types of information:

1-One class of articles are written by engineers talking about pressure differentials, thermal efficiency, enthalpy, and multivariable equations that are very distantly related to flow, horsepower, torque, supercharger rpm, or other things we KNOW and can use as input. to our equations. (Basically, this science needs to be translated into layman’s terms)

2-The second class is a random group of enthusiasts with trial-and-error advice, press releases, and other materials found online.

Here’s what we know:

First, let’s talk about how intercoolers work. There is some debate as to whether the intercooler is like a heatsink whose function is to absorb heat energy from the incoming air to prevent heat from reaching the engine, or whether the intercooler is like a radiator where the airflow over the intercooler is responsible for extracting heat from the intake air charge.

The correct answer is that both are correct…

Air passing through the intercooler spends very little time in the intercooler, and slowing it down for more heat exchange (like coolant in a radiator) would mean preventing air from reaching the engine, which limits power. Because the air spends little time in the intercooler, the intercooler typically has multiple channels, internal fins, and fins within to maximize contact between the aluminum in the intercooler and the compressed air molecules. In this sense, the total volume of the intercooler and the total surface area of its internal surfaces are like a heat sink that absorbs thermal energy from the compressed air. From this point of view, it is logical that the bigger our intercooler, the better. Additionally, it also makes sense that the more intricate and complex the inner workings of our core, the more heat we can extract from the charge air. Of course, the downside to this is that very complex internal passages can create turbulence and restrict airflow, so ultimately good design is a balance between internal complexity and flow capacity.

When we start, the intercooler is cold, and on our first power, as the hot compressed air runs through the intercooler, the heat is transferred to our heatsink (which is the intercooler) and nice cool air is left to enter the intercooler. engine. After the first run, the intercooler is warm; and when we do the second power back, the intercooler can’t put up much heat because it’s already somewhat warmed up. Here the intercooler comes in as a radiator, the heat transferred from the air to the core of the intercooler must be removed either in a cross-flow air-to-air intercooler or in an air-in-water coolant. with an intercooler or even an ice bath for drag racing applications. The uncollected heat that the intercooler has absorbed from the compressed air, the intercooler heats up after each operation until its temperature is the same as the temperature of the compressed air that heats it. At this point there is no temperature difference between the air and the intercooler core and we can no longer SINK heat.

Some cars have intercoolers under the hood of the car (like Mazda Sentia / 626). In such an installation, the intercooler is mostly a heatsink and is used for a few runs until it soaks. If it soaks in, it must be allowed to cool until it drops back under the hood before it can act as an intercooler again. . From this, we conclude that any intercooler, no matter how small or poorly placed, is better than no intercooler at all, because at least on first power it will potentially increase horsepower.

Now I’d like you to keep this information in mind when we talk about intercooler dimensions…

An intercooler has three main dimensions: height (H), width (W), and depth (D), and based on that, there are some physical concepts we want to think about:

**Cross-sectional area:**

Height x Depth = cross section of the intercooler and is related to how well the intercooler flows and whether or not it restricts the intake flow. This is the surface area facing the compressed air as it passes through the intercooler. Just like free-flowing intakes, throttle bodies, and exhausts, this area restricts flow and reduces performance if this area is undersized.

**Width:**

Width = intercooler length, and if you have the same side inlet/outlet intercooler, your intercooler length is actually 2*W. This is the distance the air must travel through the turbulent and complex intercooler core. The longer this length, the greater the pressure drop across the intercooler, so using an intercooler that is too wide is not recommended as the intercooler pressure drop would waste turbocharger compression, and using the same side inlet/outlet is also not recommended. an intercooler where the air has to travel a long distance in the core.

**Front:**

Width x height = front of intercooler facing the incoming outside air, a good sized front is necessary to ensure that the intercooler does not heat up and that the rushing air can effectively cool the intercooler (like a radiator). ) so you can make turns. By increasing this area, we expect the intercooler to better control its peak temperature and be more repeatable, no matter how long we stay in thrust (suitable for stationary or all-day highway driving, for example).

**Depth:**

Depth = intercooler depth, usually the intercooler is mounted in front of the radiator… if you increase the depth too much (and especially without proper air ducting to the intercooler and air peaks between the intercooler and the radiator) you may slow down the incoming outside air enough that your radiator starts to overheat. So increasing D gives us better intercooler performance and higher flow capacity (H*D is the cross-sectional area mentioned above), but it reduces the cooling efficiency of the motor, so that needs to be checked as well.

Last but not least:

**Total capacity: **

Height x width x depth = the total volume of the intercooler, which is an indirect measure of the internal surface of the intercooler. The larger the volume, the larger the surface area for heat exchange, the more heat we can sink out of the air in a very short time (that’s 100 milliseconds or as long as the air spends inside the core). Obviously, the larger the volume, the better the cooling and the worse the pressure drop. Again, this number needs to be verified.

**How do I know if the intercooler I have now is sufficient? **

Intercooler efficiency can be tested in two ways:

1 – Thermal performance

a. Measure the temperature difference between intercooler inlet air and intercooler outlet air and use that delta T to compare the intercoolers you have. The best intercoolers can drop the air temperature over 100*F and get you to within 20* of ambient temperature. If your factory intercooler can already achieve similar results, there may be no need to upgrade.

b. Monitor your intercooler temperature at long term power or intermittent. The intercooler design and placement should be adequate to control the temperature rise over time (say 60+ mph air hitting the intercooler) if the temperature rise is too steep a better radiating core with more front end, better air ducts and airfoils and better placement with high pressure air may be needed in the front and with low pressure air in the back… more on that later.

2-Current performance

a.Measure the flow through the intercooler core at 28 inches of water (common for most flowmeters) or measure the overall intercooler pressure drop at the flow rate required for the desired horsepower. If the car has an intercooler, measure the differential pressure across the intercooler at peak power.

The best intercoolers have a pressure drop of less than 1 psi (typically 0.5-0.9 psi) at peak power and horsepower. If your intercooler is within these power ratings, there may be no need to upgrade.

Now going back to choosing the best sized intercooler for your application, I would be very hard pressed to come up with the exact math to optimize your intercooler size and then translate that math into car power terms. , intake air temperatures, supercharger outlet temperatures, pressure ratios and boost pressures, etc

Here is another solution; one thing engineers like to do when dealing with this kind of problem is to plot statistical data on a chart and look for trends…

I found about 30 different intercoolers online with either flow tests (CFM) or Dyno tests (HP) or both, and since we know it takes about 1.5 CFM of air (depending on density) to produce 1 HP, I combined both kits. Data from both flow-tested OEM intercoolers and aftermarket “engineered” intercoolers to create the following graphs:

**CFM Flow Vs. cross-sectional area trend:**

Flow Rate (CFM) = 11.63 * Cross Sectional Area (Sq.) – 12.84

This is a graph of flow in CFM (vertical) vs. cross-sectional area (in square inches) for the 30 cores I had data on. As you can see, there is a linear relationship between expected current and surface area. So we can use this as a guide to figure out (for a given depth D) the cores available, what the minimum height of our intercooler needs to be to achieve good flow performance.

One thing to note here is that these flow measurements were taken at 28″ water pressure, or 1 psi. As we know from supercharger theory, the higher the boost pressure (and the higher the pressure ratio), the more compressed the air is. Air at 15 psi 700 hp (1,050 CFM) at 15 psi (for example, a 3.5-liter 6-cylinder) may have a cross-sectional area of only 42 square inches (because the air is half the original size), while 700 hp (1,050 CFM) at 3 psi (for example, a 7.0- liter 8-cylinder) may require a larger cross-sectional area of 91 sq. in. So consider your pressure ratio before choosing a cross-sectional area.

**Here’s my second trend:**

**Horsepower (hp) = 0.533 * intercooler capacity (cubic inches) + 50.17**

This is a graph of horsepower (vertical) vs. total core volume (in cubic inches) for the 30 cores I had data on. As you can see, there is an expected linear relationship between horsepower and volume. The more horsepower we want to make, the more air we need to ingest. The more air mass; the more energy the mass can carry (at the same temperature compared to less mass) and thus the more intercooler core we need to sink that energy into our intercooler.

Between these two rankings, I think it’s now possible to go back to my “twin-charged” Toyota Celica and say:

I wanted to achieve a peak power of 320 hp @ 20 psi. This equates to a pressure ratio of 2.36 at 480 CFM.

Starting with a standard 3-inch deep intercooler core, let me figure out my other two dimensions:

Minimum cross-sectional area = ((480/2.36) + 12.84) / 11.63 = 18 square inches = D*H

Intercooler Height = 18/3 = 6″

Total volume = (320 – 50.17) / 0.533 = 506 cubic inches.

Intercooler Width = 506/18 = 28″

So my ideal core size seems to be 28″ X 6″ X 3″, which is a pretty reasonable size for a front mount intercooler.

Now, 28″ is a reasonable intercooler width for pressure drop. If that number was too high, I’d go back and use something like a 3.5″ deep core. Also, if my intercooler height of 6″ wouldn’t fit behind my bumper, I could go back and increase the depth a bit and redo the calculations.

For a supercharged car, monitoring the intercooler pressure drop is very important, because unlike a turbocharger, we can’t simply increase the boost pressure with a boost regulator, but with superchargers, we’re limited to the transmission available on the supercharger pulley. So wasting that boost is really bad for performance. Therefore, it is very important that the intercooler is not undersized to choke the engine, nor oversized to create a large pressure drop.

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