Distillation accounts for 90–95% of all liquid separations in the chemical process industries (CPI). Despite its importance, the academic interest in distillation has declined steadily because of two common misconceptions. In the AIChE Journal Perspective article “Misconceptions about Efficiency and Maturity of Distillation,” authors Rakesh Agrawal and Radhakrishna T. Gooty (Purdue Univ.) debunk common distillation misconceptions, discuss several recent developments, and advocate for changes to teaching practices for separation technologies to better prepare the next generation of chemical engineers.
Efficiency of distillation. One of the most common misconceptions is that distillation is the most energy-intensive process among all separations, and thus, alternative processes are needed. In particular, several articles and conference presentations related to membrane separations begin with a blanket statement that thermal separations that entail vaporization of one or more components, such as distillation, are up to ten times more energy intensive than membrane-based separations. In almost all cases, such general statements appear without a valid justification or a detailed system-level analysis. These unsubstantiated statements discourage research and impede further progress on industrial distillation...
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