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How Distillation Columns Work

Views: 2     Author: Site Editor     Publish Time: 2022-04-08      Origin: Site

A distillation column is an essential item used in the distillation of liquid mixtures to separate the mixture into its component parts, or fractions, based on the differences in volatilities. Fractionating columns are used in small scale laboratory distillations as well as large scale industrial distillations.

Types of Distillation Columns

There are many types of distillation columns, each designed to perform specific types of separations, and each design differs in terms of complexity.

Batch 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.

Continuous Columns

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.

Main components of distillation column

A distillation column consists of several components, each of which is used to transfer thermal energy or enhance material transfer. A typical distillation contains several main components.

  • Vertical housing for separation of liquid components

  • Column internals for enhanced separation of components, such as trays/trays and/or packing

  • A reboiler that provides the necessary vaporization for the distillation process

  • Condenser for cooling and condensing the vapor leaving the top of the column

  • A reflux tank to hold condensed vapor from the top of the column to circulate the liquid (reflux) back to the column


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.


DEGONG distillation column

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