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UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER

School of Mechanical, Aerospace & Civil Engineering

1st Year Thermodynamics Laboratories on Working Fluids

Report on Laboratory 2: Application of the Perfect Gas Laws in the


Determination of Adiabatic Index

Prepared by

Shuhaib Maudarbaccus
st
1 Year Mechanical Engineering

Experiment performed on: March 19, 2010


Report submitted on: April 19, 2010
Table of Contents
Abstract ..................................................................................................................................... 2
Introduction .............................................................................................................................. 2
Method ...................................................................................................................................... 3
Apparatus ............................................................................................................................... 3
Procedure ................................................................................................................................ 3
Results ....................................................................................................................................... 4
Experimental data and calculation of adiabatic index ............................................................ 4
Calculation of standard deviation and percentage error ......................................................... 5
Discussions and Conclusions ................................................................................................... 6
Reasons why the initial expansion process can be considered as adiabatic ........................... 6
Reliability of the experiment and the results .......................................................................... 6
Differences in transient responses of pressure and temperature sensors................................ 7
Overall conclusions and possible improvements ................................................................... 7
Appendix I: Derivation of Formula to Calculate the Adiabatic Index ............................... 8

List of Tables
Table 1: Experimental data with calculated values for adiabatic index .................................... 4
Table 2: Workings for calculation of sn .................................................................................... 5

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Abstract
The aim of the experiment was to determine the adiabatic index of air at room temperature by
simulating an adiabatic expansion of air contained in a vessel. By recording and using
relevant pressure measurements, values of the adiabatic index could be calculated. A
relatively low standard deviation and percentage error in the readings and an average value
very close to the expected value led to the conclusion that the experiment and the simulated
adiabatic expansions were quite reliable.

Introduction
The experiment was conducted in order to determine the adiabatic index of air at room
temperature by allowing the air in a pressurised vessel to expand very briefly, during a quick
opening and closing action of a large valve - this ensured that the expansion could be
considered as adiabatic.

Pressure readings were recorded before and immediately after the expansion. The vessel
contents were then allowed to come back to room temperature and the final pressure was
recorded. Pressure was the best quantity to monitor, as compared to temperature or specific
volume, and therefore, an equation relating the adiabatic index to those three pressures had to
be derived. The derivation required the application of the First Law of Thermodynamics to
the adiabatic expansion process and the use of the Ideal Gas Law, assuming that air behaves
as an ideal gas. The relationship between the heat capacity at constant volume and internal
energy was also used in the derivation.

An average value for the adiabatic index was determined using the results from several trials
and the standard deviation and percentage error analysed to verify the reliability of the
experiment.

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Method

Apparatus

The apparatus consists of an airtight cylinder, which can be opened to the atmosphere
through ball valves at its top. It also has connections to an air pump, which allows internal
pressure to be increased, as well as to pressure and temperature sensors. The latter are
connected to a console comprising of a four-position switch. The switch positions labelled ‘P’
and ‘T1’ have been configured to monitor the gauge pressure and temperature of the air in the
cylinder. The temperature is given in terms of resistance values which can be converted to
absolute temperature using calibration charts.

Procedure

Before starting the experiment, the atmospheric pressure was measured using the barometer -
this was needed to determine the absolute pressures in the cylinder.

Valves ‘V1’ was closed and ‘V4’ opened and the air pump was then switched on. ‘V1’
controls opening of the vessel to the atmosphere while ‘V4’ controls the connection to the air
pump. When the gauge pressure indicated on the console reached approximately 25kN/m2,
the air pump was turned off and isolating valve ‘V4’ was closed. A slight fall in pressure was
observed afterwards, accounted by the fact that the vessel contents were cooling to room
temperature. The pressure was therefore allowed to stabilise and was recorded as the starting
pressure, ps.

Valve ‘V1’ was then opened and closed very rapidly, with a snap action, to allow a small
amount of air to escape from the vessel, simulating a very quick adiabatic expansion. While
the opening-closing action was done, the minimum value of pressure indicated on the console
was recorded as pi.

Again, the vessel contents were allowed to return to ambient temperature so that the final
pressure, pf, could be recorded.

The absolute pressures p1, p2 and p3 were then calculated by adding the value for atmospheric
pressure to ps, pi and pf respectively.

The same procedure was then repeated at different initial pressures in the vessel, by
considering pf as pi for the subsequent runs, as the pressure fell towards atmospheric pressure
following each step change.

The adiabatic index of air (at prevailing ambient temperature), γ, was determined using p1, p2
and p3 from each trial so that an average value could be calculated.

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Results

Experimental data and calculation of adiabatic index

Table 1: Experimental data with calculated values for adiabatic index

Trial 1 Trial 2 Trial 3 Trial 4 Trial 5


Atmospheric pressure patm (kN/m2) 100.80 100.80 100.80 100.80 100.80
Starting pressure (gauge) ps (kN/m2) 24.35 20.90 18.69 17.63 17.37
2
Starting pressure (absolute) p1 (kN/m ) 125.15 121.70 119.49 118.43 118.17
2
Intermediate pressure (gauge) pi (kN/m ) 19.59 17.84 17.23 17.26 16.77
Intermediate pressure (absolute) p2 (kN/m2) 120.39 118.64 118.03 118.06 117.57
2
Final pressure (gauge) pf (kN/m ) 20.90 18.69 17.63 17.37 16.95
2
Final pressure (absolute) p3 (kN/m ) 121.70 119.49 118.43 118.17 117.75 Average
Calculated adiabatic index γ 1.387 1.390 1.380 1.424 1.430 1.402

The experimental data collected from each trial has been laid out in Table 1 above. The
relevant absolute pressures, p1, p2 and p3, have also been tabulated and have been used in
calculating the adiabatic index, γ. The formula used for this calculation has been derived in
Appendix I and γ has been evaluated for the first trial below.

Calculation of adiabatic index for Trial 1:

The above was repeated for all trials and the average value was found to be 1.40196 (1.402 to
4 significant figures).

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Calculation of standard deviation and percentage error

The standard deviation of the experiment’s results, denoted by sn, is given by:

Table 2: Workings for calculation of sn

where is the mean adiabatic index and N the γi ( γi - γ ) ( γ i - γ )2


number of values in the sample. 1.38715 -0.01480 0.0002192
1.38955 -0.01241 0.0001540
Table 2 shows the values for the square of the 1.37969 -0.02227 0.0004961
differences and their sum. The value of sn can 1.42374 0.02178 0.0004744
therefore be easily evaluated as shown below: 1.42966 0.02771 0.0007676
Total 0.0021112

An estimate of the percentage error has been calculated using the standard deviation and the
mean value obtained:

A percentage error of less than 1.5% is relatively low and implies that the values recorded
were very precise.

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Discussions and Conclusions

Reasons why the initial expansion process can be considered as adiabatic

For a process to be adiabatic, heat transfer should be minimised or eliminated, and the
experiment uses the fact that heat transfer is very slow to make the expansion as adiabatic as
possible. This is explained through the reasons below.

1. A large bore valve was opened for a very short lapse of time (quick snap action). This
meant that a relatively large amount of air was allowed out in a very short time and
therefore, the rate of expansion was quite high. Hence, heat transfer would not have
had the time to occur during such an expansion.

2. The reading of the pressure pi was taken immediately after the valve was closed and
the expansion had stopped by considering the minimum value to which the pressure
had dropped. This ensured that the value of pressure obtained was not affected by any
heat transfer and meant that the expansion could therefore be regarded as adiabatic.

Reliability of the experiment and the results

The expected adiabatic index of air at room temperature is around 1.4 and considering the
average value of 1.402 obtained from the experimental analysis, it can be said that the results
are very accurate. However, it should be underlined that only averaging leads to such
accuracy while the individual trials did reveal some variations.

Although a standard deviation of only 0.0205 implies that the results were done to a high
precision, there were many error sources in the experiment which can account for the
variations.
Firstly, the response time of pressure sensors or limitations in human sight could have been
an issue when taking readings of pi. In fact, this measurement required alertness of the
observer to be able to see the minimum value of pressure while the pressure sensors and the
console might not have had the time to detect and show the effective minimum value reached.
Secondly, it can be seen that as the starting pressure was reduced, the difference between p s
and pi, and pi and pf also decreased while the accuracy of readings remained to two decimal
places. This inevitably led to a decrease in accuracy of the results from the last two trials
which had the biggest difference from the expected value of 1.4 (0.024 and 0.030
respectively).
Finally, the time taken to open and close the valve for the expansion process varied, since it
was done manually. If it was opened for a little longer in one particular trial, this might have
allowed some heat transfer to occur, hence making the expansion non-adiabatic and affecting
the values of pi.

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Differences in transient responses of the pressure and temperature sensors

When a considerable change in the property of a system occurs within a short time, response
time of sensors inevitably becomes an important factor in the accuracy of measurements or
readings for the said property.

In the experiment, to monitor the pressure, an electronic pressure sensor has been used while
to monitor the temperature, a platinum resistance thermometer has been used. The way in
which the two types of sensors detect the changes directly affects their respective transient
responses. The electronic pressure sensor, for instance, uses the movement of its components
brought about directly by a change in pressure to detect the latter. This movement occurs
instantaneously and can hence be readily interpreted as a new pressure reading. However, in
the case of the temperature sensor, the platinum resistance should be in thermal equilibrium
with the system for it to give the latter’s actual temperature. Since thermal equilibrium
requires heat transfer, a slow process, transient responses of temperature sensors are not very
accurate, unless the changes are very small.

Throughout the experiment, temperature had to remain almost constant, implying very small
changes, and therefore, accuracy of transient responses of the temperature sensors was not an
issue. On the other hand, pressure changes were significant and occurred within a very short
lapse of time. While the pressure sensors can readily detect the changes, the speed at which
the change is interpreted by the circuits and displayed on the screen then becomes another
factor affecting the overall transient responses. Hence, in this experiment, the transient
responses of temperature sensors were more reliable than those of pressure sensors.

Overall conclusions and possible improvements

Considering the average value for the adiabatic index obtained from the experiment is very
close to the expected value and that the percentage error in the results is around 1.466%, it
can be concluded that the experiment is reliable and so are the results.

Yet, there were several sources of errors which could have affected the accuracy of the results
and they could have been revealed if more trials had been done. Possible improvements could
be the use of data logging which would more effectively interpret the signals from the sensors
and could be set to record the relevant readings automatically. Besides, an electronically
controlled valve could be used for the expansion process, making the trials more consistent
and the results even more reliable.

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Appendix I: Derivation of Formula to Calculate the
Adiabatic Index1
For a perfect gas, cp = cv + R, where cp = specific heat capacity at constant pressure, and cv = specific
heat capacity at constant volume. For a real gas, a relationship may be defined between the heat
capacities which are dependent on the equation of state, although it is more complex than that for a
perfect gas. The heat capacity ratio may then be determined experimentally using a two step process:
1. An adiabatic reversible expansion from the initial pressure p1 to an intermediate pressure p2.
2. A return of the temperature to its original value T1 at constant volume:
(p2, v2, T2) → (p3,v3,T1)

Now, for a reversible adiabatic expansion δq = 0 and, from the First Law of Thermodynamics,

During the adiabatic expansion process, therefore

Now, it is known that at constant volume, the heat capacity relates the change in temperature to the
change in internal energy via

and, making the substitution, it is found that

Substituting in the ideal gas law and then integrating gives

To make further progress, recall that for an ideal gas

and therefore

Now the second half of the process (2-3) is used to express the specific volume ratio in terms of
measurable quantities (i.e. pressure): first, recall that v3 = v2, T3 = T1 and that

Making this substitution and rearranging, it is found that

1
University of Manchester, School of MACE. [anon]. 1st Year Thermodynamics Laboratories on Working
Fluids, Laboratory 2. 2010