Distillation is defined as
A process in which a liquid or vapour mixture of two or more substances is separated into its component fractions of desired purity, by the application and removal of heat.Distillation is based on the fact that the vapour of a boiling mixture will be richer in the components that have lower boiling points. Therefore, when this vapour is cooled and condensed, the condensate will contain more volatile components. At the same time, the original mixture will contain more of the less volatile material. Distillation columns are designed to achieve this separation efficiently. The best way to reduce operating costs of existing units, is to improve their efficiency and operation via process optimisation and control. To achieve this improvement, a thorough understanding of distillation principles and how distillation systems are designed is essential.
TYPES OF DISTILLATION COLUMNS
In batch operation, the feed to the column is introduced batch-wise. That is, the column is charged with a 'batch' and then the distillation process is carried out. When the desired task is achieved, a next batch of feed is introduced.
In contrast, continuous columns process a continuous feed stream. No interruptions occur unless there is a problem with the column or surrounding process units. They are capable of handling high throughputs and are the most common of the two types. We shall concentrate only on this class of columns.
Basic Operation and Terminology The liquid mixture that is to be processed is known as the feed and this is introduced usually somewhere near the middle of the column to a tray known as the feed tray. The feed tray divides the column into a top (enriching or rectification) section and a bottom (stripping) section. The feed flows down the column where it is collected at the bottom in the reboiler.Heat is supplied to the reboiler to generate vapour. The source of heat input can be any suitable fluid, although in most chemical plants this is normally steam. In refineries, the heating source may be the output streams of other columns. The vapour raised in the reboiler is re-introduced into the unit at the bottom of the column. The liquid removed from the reboiler is known as the bottoms product or simply, bottoms.The vapour moves up the column, and as it exits the top of the unit, it is cooled by a condenser. The condensed liquid is stored in a holding vessel known as the reflux drum. Some of this liquid is recycled back to the top of the column and this is called the reflux. The condensed liquid that is removed from the system is known as the distillate or top product.Thus, there are internal flows of vapour and liquid within the column as well as external flows of feeds and product streams, into and out of the column.
Separation of components from a liquid mixture via distillation depends on the differences in boiling points of the individual components. Also, depending on the concentrations of the components present, the liquid mixture will have different boiling point characteristics. Therefore, distillation processes depends on the vapour pressure characteristics of liquid mixtures.Vapour Pressure and Boiling