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Chapter 8: Psychrometry


psychrometry is the study of air-water vapour mixtures. It is also sometimes
referred to as hygrometry. Many mechanical engineering devices exploit
psychrometric processes, such as air conditioning systems and cooling towers.

some remarkable facts that underline the importance of psychrometry.
1. In 1999, Australian heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and
refrigeration accounted for 11% and 4% of total greenhouse emissions
respectively. Such figures are representative of the industrialised world, and
continue to grow strongly.

2. Between 1-2 kg of water evaporates from the cooling towers of coal fired
power stations per kWhr of electricity they produce. This translates to roughly
20% of Melbournes daily fresh water consumption being evaporated by the
power stations that generate our electricity.

so, if you want to make big reductions in CO
emissions and water consumption,
then psychrometry has a major part to play.
8.1 The psychrometric chart and definitions
for an n component mixture in general, we need to specify 1 n + properties to
specify the thermodynamic state at equilibrium.

1. we are not considering pure substances here, but rather a 2 component
mixture (water and air). Thus, we need to specify at least 3 properties to
determine the thermodynamic state. In psychrometry, 1 of these properties is
often a measure of the amount of water in the mixture (e.g. the relative
humidity or the humidity ratio, both of which are defined later).

2. in the case of a combustible mixture, we typically specify the temperature and
pressure of the mixture as well as the air-fuel ratio (or an analogous quantity
such as the equivalence ratio or lambda).

the psychrometric chart is a thermodynamic chart like any other. However, it is
normally presented at atmospheric pressure only, as most applications are at this
pressure. Thus, we need only 2 more properties to determine the thermodynamic
state the pressure is already given.
thus, if we have a psychrometric problem at non-atmospheric pressure, the
atmospheric psychrometric chart cannot be used.

These lecture notes are strongly based on those given previously in this subject by Dr. Kandadai

major features of the psychrometric chart:

1. the saturation line: this is the line of 100% relative humidity, and represents
the locus of thermodynamic states that can hold the maximum amount of
water in purely vapour form. DO NOT CONFUSE THIS LINE WITH THE

2. the dry bulb temperature: is the temperature of the mixture as measured by a
standard thermometer. The word dry is used to imply that the the sensor is
exposed to the vapour mixture without any liquid present.

3. the enthalpy: as commonly used, but with units of J oules per kilogram of the
dry air in the mixture.

4. the humidity ratio w: the mass of water vapour in the mixture per unit mass
of dry air, i.e.


5. the wet bulb temperature
T (or the saturation temperature): is the
temperature at which water evaporating into moist air at a given dry-bulb
temperature and humidity ratio can bring air to saturation adiabatically at the
same pressure p .

6. the relative humidity : is the ratio of the mole fraction of water vapour in a
given sample of moist air to the mole fraction of water vapour in air saturated
at the same temperature and pressure. It is also the ratio of the partial
pressure of water vapour to the partial pressure of water vapour in air
saturated at the same temperature and pressure. The relative humidity is the
colloquial way of expressing moisture content.

w w
ws ws
x p
x p
= =

7. the specific volume v : as commonly used, but with units of mixture volume
per kilogram of the dry air.

other important terms:

8. the dew point temperature
T : is the temperature of moist air saturated at the
same pressure and humidity ratio as a given specimen of humid air. If we cool
it further, water will start condensing and separates out as fog/dew, hence the

9. the absolute humidity: exactly the same as the humidity ratio.

10. the specific humidity q : the mass of water vapour per unit mass of the
mixture, i.e.

w a
m m

11. the saturation humidity ratio: is the humidity ratio of moist air that is saturated
with water vapour at the same temperature and pressure.
8.2 The wet bulb temperature
consider a stream of unsaturated air-water mixture flowing through a tunnel into
which water is sprayed.

since the air-water mixture is not saturated, it is capable of taking in more of
water vapour. Some of the water from the spray will therefore evaporate and mix
with the air. Of course, w keeps increasing and at some point the mixture
becomes saturated with water.

during this adiabatic process, the temperature of the air-water mixture will
decrease because the heat required to vaporise the liquid water is provided by
air-water vapour mixture. When saturated, the air-water mixture will then be at
the wet bulb temperature
T .

thus, in general, for some non-saturated vapour mixture, the dry bulb temperature
T T > and
( )
T T is called the wet bulb depression.

the wet bulb temperature is measured by a thermometer that has its bulb
enclosed in a wet wick. The wet wick thermometer is cooled down by the
evaporation on the wick. The amount of evaporation is a direct indication of the
moisture carrying capacity of the atmospheric air at that temperature. When the
air is saturated, there is no evaporation and thus the dry bulb and wet bulb
temperatures are the same.

thus, we can determine the thermodynamic state of air at atmospheric pressure
by simultaneously taking the dry and wet bulb temperatures. Such a device is
called a hygrometer. Recourse to the psychrometric chart then allows us to
measure other quantities.

8.3 Air-water mixtures as perfect gases
if air and water vapour can be treated as perfect gases, then it follows that
a w
a w
ra rw
m RT m RT
p V p V
= = (8.1)
where 28.84
M = and 18
M = are the molecular masses of air and water
since the humidity ratio w can be expressed in terms of partial pressures or mole
fractions, it follows that

w rw w w
a ra a a
m M p x
m M p x
| | | |
= = =
| |
\ . \ .
8.4 Psychrometric processes
just as we have several commonly used processes in the thermodynamics of
pure substances (isobars, isotherms, isochores), there are several common
processes for air+water vapour mixtures.

8.4.1 Heating or cooling of moist air
the addition or removal of heat, without any change in the moisture content (i.e.
the humidity ratio w), must result in a change of the dry bulb temperature (DBT).
The state will move horizontally left (cooling) or right (heating):

the amount of heat transferred to/from the mixture is of course governed by the
( )
2 1 a
q m h h = (8.3)
where it is noted that since the enthalpies are per unit mass of the dry air in the
mixture, this enthalpy difference is multiplied by the mass of air to obtain the heat
if, as a result of the cooling, the left moving point reaches the saturation line,
some condensation will start:

the DBT that corresponds to this point is refereed to as the dew point
temperature of the original mixture, as this is the first point at which liquid water
(i.e. dew, fog or mist) forms. If there is further cooling, the state point moves
along the saturation line and further condensation will occur.
application of the first law to this process yields
( )
2 1 a w w
q m h h m h = + (8.4)
m and
h are the mass and enthalpy of the liquid water present at the
end of the process (this water separates out from the vapour mixture as
condensate, and so is not represented on the chart, but must be considered in
the any mass or energy balance).
the initial and final moisture contents during this process are
1 a
m w and
2 a
m w
since the water must be conserved,

( )
1 2
1 2
a a w
w a
m w m w m
m m w w
= +
thus, substituting into the SFEE
( ) ( )
2 1 2 1 a w
q m h h w w h = (

this cooling process can therefore also reasonably be called dehumidification by
cooling since the absolute humidity (i.e. the humidity ratio) decreases.
8.4.2 Adiabatic humidification (or evaporati ve cooling)
if water is evaporated into the air-water vapour mixture without any heat addition
or removal (i.e. adiabatically), the heat required to evaporate the water is taken
from the vapour mixture. The DBT is therefore reduced whilst the state point
moves along a line of constant wet bulb temperature (WBT).
consider a stream of air-water vapour mixture into which a water spray

from the SFEE,
( )
2 1
a w w
m h h m h = (8.7)
once again, since the mass of water is conserved,

( )
1 2
2 1
a w a
w a
m w m m w
m m w w
+ =
and thus

2 1
2 1
h h
w w

1. because this process is adiabatic does not infer that
2 1
0 h h = . This is because
lines of constant WBT are not exactly parallel with lines of constant (mixture)
enthalpy. As noted earlier, the enthalpy is defined per unit mass of dry air in the
2. the relative humidity is increased during this process until it hits the saturation
line. Further injection of water after this point does not result in any evaporation
and therefore no decrease in the DBT. Thus, evaporative cooling is ineffective in
humid atmospheric conditions.
8.4.3 Adiabatic dehumidification
if the air-water vapour mixture is passed through a chemical sorbent material
(e.g. a silica gel), some of the moisture is removed and the latent heat of
evaporation is released. Thus, the DBT increases along a line of constant WBT if
this process is adiabatic.
8.4.4 Adiabatic mixing of two vapour streams
consider the mixing of two air streams,

applying the SFEE

3 3 1 1 2 2
a a a
m h m h m h = (8.10)
conservation of air

3 1 2 a a a
m m m = + (8.11)
conservation of water

3 3 1 1 2 2 a a a
m w m w m w = + (8.12)
combining (8.11) and (8.12) with (8.10) to eliminate
3 a
m ,

( )
1 1 2 2
1 2
a a
a a
m h m h
m m
thus, the process is as follows on the psychrometric chart,

8.5 Air conditioning
in terms of the psychrometric chart, our perception of comfort is roughly as

air conditioning is the generic term given to use of psychrometric processes that
move the state of the air-water vapour mixture to an intended place on the chart.
This is usually to cool or moderate conditions, and may involve both heating
and cooling the mixture.

a simple arrangement of a summer air conditioning cycle,

a simple arrangement of a winter air conditioning cycle,

8.6 Cooling towers
cooling towers are a very important part of almost all power plants. Their
operation is in principle very simple. They cool the cooling water by evaporating
some of it into a passing stream of moist air. Considering a spray of cooling water
droplets in the tower,

cooling towers are closely adiabatic devices, with the vapour phase represented
as follows on the psychrometric chart for the ideal process,

here the red and pink lines represent the paths taken by the vapour as it cools
and then as the cooling water evaporates.

a typical cooling water circulation system:

hot water from the heat exchangers is sent to the cooling tower. The water
(minus that evaporated) is sent back to the heat exchangers for further cooling.
Make-up water is used to replenish water lost to evaporation.
there are essentially 2 types of cooling tower designs: natural and mechanical
8.6.1 Natural draft cooling towers
as the name suggests, natural draft cooling towers exploit natural (or free)
convection to move air through the cooling water.
these types of towers are typically very large (~150m high and ~100m base
diameter) and are generally used with high water flow rates (~10-20 m

often these are used in coal fired power stations. When you see a vapour plume
coming from the top, it is of course not smoke, and means that the tower is
performing as intended!
8.6.2 Mechanical draft cooling towers
Mechanical draft cooling towers are used for low and moderate water flow rates,
especially in central air conditioning and refrigeration plants. Fans force air
through the circulated water.

there are many configurations of mechanical draft cooling towers, for example,