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Operational Parametric Study of a Tesla Pump: Disk Pack Spacing and Rotational

Conference Paper · July 2015

DOI: 10.1115/AJKFluids2015-33220

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Dominic Groulx
Dalhousie University


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Proceedings of the ASME-JSME-KSME Joint Fluids Engineering Conference 2015
July 26-31, 2015, SEOUL, KOREA



Laura Dodsworth Dominic Groulx
Mechanical Engineering, Dalhousie University Mechanical Engineering, Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

ABSTRACT find applications in various systems: missile, space systems [2,

A Tesla pump was designed and built with the objective of 3], and biomedical field [4] to name just a few.
being a compact and rugged pump for cooling electronics. A A Tesla pump impeller or disk pack, consists of smooth,
Tesla pump is a bladeless pump that uses spinning disks to flat, parallel disks on a drive shaft, arranged such that there are
move fluid. Due to the nature of the pump, cavitation is small spaces between the disks. These disk spacings are as
avoided, and the lack of conventional blades makes it rugged small as a few thousandth’s of an inch, or thou’s. The fluid
and easy to build. A continuous test loop was designed and enters through the center of the pump and is forced into the
used to produce pump curves at several different disk pack small spaces between the disks, where it is accelerated until it
spacings and motor speeds. Pump curves were obtained and spirals out of the pump, similar to the way a centrifugal type
analyzed for this prototype Tesla pump. It was determined the pump works. However, unlike centrifugal pumps, the working
smallest spacing tested proved to be the most efficient, principle of a Tesla pump involves viscous drag, or shear forces
especially at the highest motor speed. A relationship between in the fluid; mainly occurring within the boundary layers on
disk pack gap and efficiency was found, as well as one between each surface of the disks. For Tesla turbomachinery, the fluid
the pump’s performance and motor speed. is dragged along the surface of the rotating disks, accelerating
until it reaches the velocity at which the disks are spinning [5].
NOMENCLATURE The advantage of this type of pump is that it works well
A Current (A) with viscous, two-phase mixtures, highly loaded slurries and
g Gravitational Acceleration (m/s2) suspensions, as well as “exotic fluids” like rocket propellant [2,
h Differential Head (m) 4]. Due to the nature of the operation of Tesla pumps, they are
PH Hydraulic Power (W) also advantageous for small volumetric, pumping applications,
PM Input Power to Motor (W) such as an artificial heart[2, 4]. In supporting this, Rice
Q Volumetric Flow Rate (m3/s) suggests that as the Tesla pump is decreased in size the
V Voltage (V) efficiency would remain constant, unlike conventional pumps,
ηoverall Overall Pump Efficiency where it decreases with size [2]. Another factor which makes
ρ Density (kg/m3) these pumps advantageous in comparison to conventional
thou Thousandths of an Inch centrifugal pumps, is a lower sensitivity to cavitation [2].
Conventional pumps require a pressure difference across the
INTRODUCTION surface of the blade, due to the fact they utilize lift forces to
Nickolas Tesla developed the first bladeless turbomachine exchange energy. These pressure differences are avoided by
design in 1913, including the Tesla pump for which he obtained utilizing shear forces between the fluid and disks [3]. This is
a US patent [1]. In the early days of its invention, it was beneficial for the lifetime of the pump as no blades would have
regarded mainly as a conceptual design due to issues in to be replaced or repaired. The fact that cavitation is avoided,
efficiency compared to traditional bladed turbomachinery. In allows for a more stable operation in comparison to
the 1950’s, the interest renewed about the characteristics of conventional bladed pumps, especially for applications where
flow between rotating disks and many studies were performed vibrations will undoubtedly be present.
to further understand the phenomenon. This allowed room for A prototype Tesla pump was designed and built at the
possible improvements to the Tesla pump. Today, Tesla pump Laboratory of Applied Multiphase Thermal Engineering
(LAMTE) with the objective of continuous operation under

large amount of vibration, building on its lower sensitivity to meter measurements were confirmed by measuring the flow out
cavitation. A continuous test loop was assembled and used to of the system for a set time and proved to be accurate.
create pump curves to determine the operational characteristics To determine the head the pump produces a differential
of the pump, such as the effect of different disk pack spacing pressure sensor, PX26-005 was used. The pressure sensor was
and rotational speeds on performance. calibrated using a known height of water on the discharge end
An analysis of several different disk pack configurations of the sensor, which proved the measurements were correct and
and rotational speeds was performed and pump curves were accurate. A needle type valve was used to vary the head
developed for each case and compared. Disk pack spacings losses on the system.
ranging from five thou to twenty thou at increments of five The motor input was determined by measuring current
thou, were tested at several rotational speeds (2500, 3000, and drawn and the voltage supplied to the motor, using standard
3600 RPM). This was done to characterize the pump and help voltmeters. The pump’s motor is a Maxon 15W EC 32 flat
determine the optimal disk spacing and motor speed. This brushless motor with integrated electronics. It includes as
paper will first present the experimental setup and pulse counter function for measuring the RPM of the motor.
methodology; leading into the experimental results and a This motor also has a signal input that can be varied to control
thorough discussion of the findings. its speed. Since the speed signal input goes up to 10.33 V, and
the motor can take up to 24 V, two separate power supplies
EXPERIMENTAL SET UP were used to obtain the necessary motor speeds.
A continuous test loop was assembled, consisting of a All data was recorded using a National Instruments
reservoir, flow meter, differential pressure sensor and a valve. compact DAQ, 4 slot chassis system, with 2 modules. The two
The prototype pump is shown in Fig 1. The disk pack outer modules used are the NI 9435, for the pulse counting
diameter is 35 mm, with an inner opening (hole in the center) equipment, and NI9219 for the analog input from the pressure
diameter of 9.5 mm. The entire length of the disk pack is sensor. The NI 9435 was used for the flow meter and the pulse
approximately 55 mm, including supports and each disk is counter for the motor speed. This was connected and read into
0.8 mm thick. The shape of the casing or volute, as discussed the computer program Labview, which then recorded and saved
in [6], is a log spiral, with an average spacing between the disk the data.
pack and casing of 8.15 mm. The disks are attached to the
disk pack supports by three disk pack rods, which go through
the disks and are secured to the supports. Since the motor is
separated from the water side of the pump (or disk pack), it is
connected to the motor by a magnetic coupling, which is
attached to the disk pack with a bolt that goes though the motor
side support, as shown in Fig 2. The motor of the prototype
pump is a 15 W, DC electric, magnetic drive motor. Water
was used as a working fluid for the testing, due to availability
and ease of use. The flow rate and pressure difference for
varying loads were used to calculate the hydraulic power of the
pump. The current and voltage were used to determine the
motor’s power. Both were then used to determine the FIGURE 1. PROTOTYPE PUMP.
efficiencies of each configuration. The pump consists of two
main parts: the disk pack and the motor enclosure. Figure 2
presents a schematic of the disk pack.

Due to the fact the pump produces very low flow rates, low
pressure differences also exist. This was determined from
design factors and some preliminary testing. One of the
problems with finding an appropriate flow meter was typical
higher head losses they produce. Typical paddle style flow
meters would have too high head losses and would have
obstructed the readings. Therefore the flow meter used in this
study is a contactless electromagnetic flow meter, model
number FMG91-PVDF from Omega. This type of flow meter
has no moving parts and provides continuous measurement of
the flow rate of the working fluid. The flow meter has an
accuracy of 1% of reading and a repeatability of 1%. The flow

The system was primed with the working fluid (water) and
the motor was set to the desired RPM. The pump was allowed
to run for 20-30 min before any data was taken. This was done
to remove any excess air from the pump and system. The
flow meter showed to be sensitive to large air bubbles the pump
produced after first starting up. The needle valve was left
open the whole start-up time and was the first data point to be
All data except voltage and current was recorded
electronically. These were recorded multiple times throughout
the run and then averaged. Since the flow meter and differential
pressure sensor continuously read data, data was collected for a
minute for each partial turn of the needle valve. All data (flow
rate and pressure difference) was then averaged for over a
minute, and those values were used for analysis.
Changing the disk pack spacings was completed after the FIGURE 3. PUMP HEAD VS. FLOW RATE FOR DIFFERENT
three motor speeds were tested. This was done by disconnecting DISK PACK SPACINGS: 2500 RPM MOTOR SPEED.
the pump and inserting a new disk pack with a different spacing
into the pump.
Overall, four different disk pack spacings (5 thou with 20
disks, 10 thou with 18 disks, 15 thou with 16 disks and 20 thou
with 15 disks), and three different motor speeds (2500, 3000
and 3600 RPM) were tested.

The hydraulic power (Eq. (1)) and the motor input power
(Eq. (2)) were used to calculate efficiencies through Eq. (3):

= ℎ (1)

= ∙ (2)

= ∗ 100 (3)
Results for Disk Spacing
Figures 3 and 4 show the pump head and overall pump
efficiency respectively as a function of flow rate for each disk
pack spacing at a pump speed of 2500 RPM. From these
figures, it is unclear what spacing would be considered optimal
with both the 10 and 15 thou spacing producing similar head vs
flow rate curves; leading to a maximum head of 0.77 m at a
flow rate of 0.11 L/min. At this pump speed, the maximum
efficiency obtained during testing slightly exceeds 0.6%.
Figures 5 and 6 show head and efficiency respectively as a
function of flow rate for the various disk pack spacings with a
pump speed of 3000 RPM. Contrary to the 2500 RPM results, a
clear relation between disk spacing and resulting head,
efficiency, appears at 3000 RPM. The 5 thou spacing proves
to provide the highest head (1.18 m) and best efficiencies (1%).
Both head and efficiency decreasing as the disk spacing

Figures 7 and 8 show the results for the final motor speed,
3600 RPM, for head and pump efficiency of the various disk
pack spacings as a function of the flow rate. They show a
similar trend as the 3000 RPM results with the spacing of 5
thou outperforming the other three disk pack configurations
with a maximum head of 1.7 m and an efficiency of 1.17%.
However, it is not clear with the three largest spacings which
one would be best. The largest three spacings tend to group
together in Fig. 7 while being apart more in Fig. 8.

Results for Pump Rotational Speed

Figures 9 and 10 show the effects of motor speed on pump
head, flow rate and efficiency for the five thou spacing. In
Fig. 9, the resulting head as a function of the three different
speeds are almost evenly spaced out. Interestingly, in Fig. 10,
the efficiencies all start at similar values and spread out with
FIGURE 6. EFFICIENCY VS. FLOW RATE FOR DIFFERENT increasing flow rate, leading to the highest efficiency of 1.17%
DISK PACK SPACINGS: 3000 RPM MOTOR SPEED. with the fastest speed of 3600 RPM.



experimentally. Generally, the smaller disk pack spacing
proved to be the most efficient and produce higher flow rates
and pump head, especially at higher pump speed. The same
conclusion can be made of the higher motor speed.

Effects of Disk Spacing

The spacing between the disks proved to be significant for
a few of the runs. The smaller spacings tended to provide
higher capacities and efficiencies: the 5 thou gap spacing at
3600 RPM pump speed provide the highest efficiencies and
pump head. In theory, a Tesla pump relies on the viscous
shear forces between the fluid and the disks to accelerate the
fluid, therefore, a smaller gap between the disks would create
less fluid slippage. As the gap, or disk spacing, increases, the
efficiency and capacity of the pump would also decrease since a
larger portion of the fluid can now fall outside of the boundary
FIGURE 11. 10 THOU SPACING, PUMP HEAD VS. FLOW RATE layer formed at the surface of the disk, or at the very least,
FOR DIFFERENT MOTOR SPEEDS. receive to a lesser degree the influence of the spinning disk by
being farther away in the boundary layer.


Figure 11 shows a similar trend for the ten thou spacing as
the motor speed increases for pump head and flowrate to that of
the 5 thou spacing. However, Fig. 12 shows that the
efficiency does not vary between the various rotor speeds
compared to the five thou case.
Figure 13 is a further example of how the pump head and
flow rate respond with increasing motor speeds, for the 20 thou
system. It behaves in a way similar to what was presented in
Figs. 9 and 11, with an even more significant gap between each
speed trend line. Figure 14 shows how the efficiency behaves
for the 20 thou spacing with increasing speed. Again,
virtually no difference is observed in the efficiencies for the
various speeds studied, with a very small maximum efficiency
of 0.35% at 3600 RPM.

From Figs. 3 to 8, it is clear there are some general trends
with disk pack spacing and motor speed that are observed FOR DIFFERENT MOTOR SPEEDS.

There are some discrepancies from the observed pattern in A clear relationship between disk pack spacing and the
a few of the runs. One such being the 2500 RPM performance of the prototype pump was found, especially at
experiments. From Fig. 3, it appears that the 10 and 15 thou higher pump speed. The smaller the spacing generally
spacing produces the most pump head at such low speed. The provides better overall efficiencies and pump head. Increasing
fact that a larger spacing provides more head at a lower speed the motor speed was found to increase flow rate and pump head
could be explained by the fact that entrainment in the boundary as well. However, it appeared to have no to little effect on the
layer plays a bigger role at smaller pump rotational speed. overall efficiency for larger disk pack spacing.
Future tests at speed lower than 2500 RPM (2000 and 1500 Further testing is needed to confirm a few interesting
RPM) will be performed to determine any possible impact of measurements. Mainly, at the lowest pump speed (2500
low speed on pump performance and configuration. It must RPM), no clear trends could be determined concerning the best
be mentioned that those results could partially be explained by possible disk pack spacing. It could be that the Tesla pump in
experimental contamination from air bubbles in the system general is not properly adequate at such low speed, or that
which would affect the flow meter producing a lower flow rate larger spacings are required as the velocity drop; this will be
than actual. With small disk gap and lower speed, it is investigated by performing tests at speeds of 1500 and
possible that it is more difficult to remove all air from the disk 2000 RPM.
pack. More tests, with a larger running start up time, to allow These tests were performed with water at room
for any possible trapped air to be removed, will be carried. temperature; however, it is clear that viscosity and boundary
As for the 3600 RPM runs presented in Figs. 7 and 8, the layer behaviors play a crucial role in the functioning of a Tesla
pump head and flow rates of the larger disk pack spacings (10, pump. To further study this impact, future tests will also be
15 and 20 thou) are grouped close together. This indicates performed in a thermal chamber at various temperature,
that the effect of disk spacing is not significant at this speed. affecting the viscosity of water at the same time, as well as tests
This points to the fact that the disk spacing selection is a performed with different fluids, to further determine the
function of the pump rotational speed, requiring small spacings relation between rotational speed, disk pack spacing and fluid
at high speed, and potentially larger spacing at smaller speed. (viscosity) used.
Also, in general, as the disk spacing increases the efficiencies
The authors are thankful to Raytheon for their financial
Effects of Motor Speed and technical support for this work, specifically to Dr. John
Figures 9 to 14 illustrates result for each disk pack Jacobs. Also, both the Natural Science and Engineering
configuration as the motor speed of the pump is increased. In Research Council (NSERC) of Canada and the Canadian
general, the flow rate and pump head increases, with increasing Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for their financial assistance.
motor speed, as is typical of turbomachines. However the
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