Despite great advances in process simulation, the need remains for real-life distillation testing. This practical guide gives a broad overview of how to set up experimental distillation projects.
Distillation is the most common separation technique used in the chemical industry. Most of the world’s commodity chemicals and nearly all liquid fuels are produced by processes that include distillation steps. The efficiency and effectiveness of these distillation steps is key to the overall economics of these processes.
Engineers use process simulation to model separations in order to conceptualize, design, and optimize distillation processes. However, it is often also necessary to conduct experiments with laboratory- or pilot-scale distillation columns. Experiments may be required to demonstrate proof-of-concept for a separation, verify computer simulations, address issues that cannot be predicted by simulations, or generate samples.
Several types of distillation columns are commonly used in such experimental work, but the same general principles apply and they all require some of the same types of equipment, such as reboilers, condensers, and liquid-vapor contactors. The concepts presented here apply to most types of experimental distillation columns.
This article provides a practical guide and broad overview of how to set up and run experimental distillation projects. It discusses the various aspects of laboratory- and pilot-scale distillation experiments, including equipment selection and operation. Batch and conventional continuous columns that operate under vacuum are used as a basis for the discussion.
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