(139c) Distillation: An Under-Plowed Field

Metcalf, A. - Presenter, Rice University
Arredondo, J. H., Rice University
Worstell, J. H., Worstell and Worstell, Consultants
We all know and agree that the heart of a chemical process resides in the reactor section of a chemical plant, where product forms. However, the majority of the invested capital goes to the unit operation separating desired product from by-product and solvent. The same unit operation also comprises the majority of the operating costs for a given chemical process.

Distillation is the most common separation unit operation in the chemical processing industry. It was studied intensively from the 1890's through the 1980's. However, since the early 1990's, distillation has become rather passe with regard to academic investigators. But, that response does not mean distillation is devoid of interesting problems to investigate.

Advances in computer power and user-friendly software opens new opportunities for investigating the fundamental features of distillation. In this presentation, we present a dynamic model for describing the separation that occurs on each tray of a laboratory-scale distillation unit. We then show how this model can be used to scale a distillation operation from laboratory-sized equipment to commercial-sized equipment.