Mass transfer 1
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Category: Chemical engineering
Mass transfer is the net movement of mass from one location, usually meaning a stream, phase, fraction or
component, to another. Mass transfer occurs in many processes, such as absorption, evaporation, adsorption, drying,
precipitation, membrane filtration, and distillation. Mass transfer is used by different scientific disciplines for
different processes and mechanisms. The phrase is commonly used in engineering for physical processes that involve
diffusive and convective transport of chemical species within physical systems.
Some common examples of mass transfer processes are the evaporation of water from a pond to the atmosphere, the
purification of blood in the kidneys and liver, and the distillation of alcohol. In industrial processes, mass transfer
operations include separation of chemical components in distillation columns, absorbers such as scrubbers, adsorbers
such as activated carbon beds, and liquid-liquid extraction. Mass transfer is often coupled to additional transport
processes, for instance in industrial cooling towers. These towers couple heat transfer to mass transfer by allowing
hot water to flow in contact with hotter air and evaporate as it absorbs heat from the air.
Mass transfer 2
In astrophysics, mass transfer is the process by which matter gravitationally bound to a body, usually a star, fills its
Roche lobe and becomes gravitationally bound to a second body, usually a compact object (white dwarf, neutron star
or black hole), and is eventually accreted onto it. It is a common phenomenon in binary systems, and may play an
important role in some types of supernovae and pulsars.
Mass transfer finds extensive application in chemical engineering problems. It is used in reaction engineering,
separations engineering, heat transfer engineering, and many other sub-disciplines of chemical engineering.
The driving force for mass transfer is typically a difference in chemical potential, when it can be defined, though
other thermodynamic gradients may couple to the flow of mass and drive it as well. A chemical species moves from
areas of high chemical potential to areas of low chemical potential. Thus, the maximum theoretical extent of a given
mass transfer is typically determined by the point at which the chemical potential is uniform. For single
phase-systems, this usually translates to uniform concentration throughout the phase, while for multiphase systems
chemical species will often prefer one phase over the others and reach a uniform chemical potential only when most
of the chemical species has been absorbed into the preferred phase, as in liquid-liquid extraction.
While thermodynamic equilibrium determines the theoretical extent of a given mass transfer operation, the actual
rate of mass transfer will depend on additional factors including the flow patterns within the system and the
diffusivities of the species in each phase. This rate can be quantified through the calculation and application of mass
transfer coefficients for an overall process. These mass transfer coefficients are typically published in terms of
dimensionless numbers, often including Péclet numbers, Reynolds numbers, Sherwood numbers and Schmidt
numbers, among others
Analogies between heat, mass, and momentum transfer
There are notable similarities in the commonly used approximate differential equations for momentum, heat, and
The molecular transfer equations of Newton's law for fluid momentum at low Reynolds number
(Stokes flow), Fourier's law for heat, and Fick's law for mass are very similar, since they are all linear
approximations to transport of conserved quantities in a flow field. At higher Reynolds number, the analogy between
mass and heat transfer and momentum transfer becomes less useful due to the nonlinearity of the Navier-Stokes
equation (or more fundamentally, the general momentum conservation equation), but the analogy between heat and
mass transfer remains good. A great deal of effort has been devoted to developing analogies among these three
transport processes so as to allow prediction of one from any of the others.
Absorption (chemistry) 3
Laboratory absorber. 1a): CO
inlet; 1b): H
O inlet; 2): outlet; 3):
absorption column; 4): packing.
In chemistry, absorption is a physical or chemical
phenomenon or a process in which atoms, molecules,
or ions enter some bulk phase – gas, liquid, or solid
material. This is a different process from adsorption,
since molecules undergoing absorption are taken up by
the volume, not by the surface (as in the case for
adsorption). A more general term is sorption, which
covers absorption, adsorption, and ion exchange.
Absorption is a condition in which something takes in
If absorption is a physical process not accompanied by
any other physical or chemical process, it usually
follows the Nernst partition law:
"the ratio of concentrations of some solute
species in two bulk phases in contact is constant
for a given solute and bulk phases"
The value of constant K
depends on temperature and
is called partition coefficient. This equation is valid if
concentrations are not too large and if the species "x"
does not change its form in any of the two phases "1"
or "2". If such molecule undergoes association or
dissociation then this equation still describes the equilibrium between "x" in both phases, but only for the same form
– concentrations of all remaining forms must be calculated by taking into account all the other equilibria.
In the case of gas absorption, one may calculate its concentration by using, e.g., the Ideal gas law, c = p/RT. In
alternative fashion, one may use partial pressures instead of concentrations.
In many processes important in technology, the chemical absorption is used in place of the physical process, e.g.,
absorption of carbon dioxide by sodium hydroxide – such acid-base processes do not follow the Nernst partition law.
For some examples of this effect, see liquid-liquid extraction. It is possible to extract from one liquid phase to
another a solute without a chemical reaction. Examples of such solutes are noble gases and osmium tetroxide.
The process of absorption means that a substance captures and transforms energy. The absorbent distributes the
material it captures throughout while and adsorbent only distributes it through the surface. The reddish color of
copper is an example of this process because it is caused due to its absorption of blue light.
Absorption (chemistry) 4
Types of absorption
Absorption is a process that may be chemical or physical.
Physical absorption is made between a gas mixture or part of it and a liquid solvent. It involves the transfer of mass
that takes place at the interface between the liquid and the gas and the rate at which the gas diffuses into a liquid.
This type of absorption depends on the solubility of gases, the pressure and the temperature.
Chemical absorption or reactive absorption is a chemical reaction between the absorbed and the absorbing
substances. Sometimes it combines with physical absorption. This type of absorption depends upon the
stoichiometry of the reaction and the concentration of its reactants.
 Senese, F. (1997-2010) General Chemistry Online. Obtained on December 1, 2012 from http://antoine.frostburg.edu/chem/senese/101/
 (n.a.) (December 4, 2010) Absorption (Chemistry). Obtained on December 1, 2012 from http://en.citizendium.org/wiki/
Aerosol of microscopic water droplets suspended
in the air above a hot tea cup after that water
vapor has sufficiently cooled and condensed.
Water vapor is an invisible gas, but the clouds of
condensed water droplets refract and disperse the
sun light and so are visible.
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs from the
surface of a liquid into a gaseous phase that is not saturated with the
evaporating substance. The other type of vaporization is boiling,
which, instead, occurs within the entire mass of the liquid and can also
take place when the vapor phase is saturated, such as when steam is
produced in a boiler. Evaporation that occurs directly from the solid
phase, as commonly observed with ice or moth crystals (napthalene or
paradichlorobenzine), is called sublimation.
On average, a fraction of the molecules in a glass of water have enough
heat energy to escape from the liquid. Water molecules from the air
enter the water in the glass, but as long as the relative humidity of the
air in contact is less than 100% (saturation), the net transfer of water
molecules will be to the air. The water in the glass will be cooled by
the evaporation until an equilibrium is reached where the air supplies
the amount of heat removed by the evaporating water. In an enclosed
environment the water would evaporate until the air is saturated.
With sufficient temperature, the liquid would turn into vapor quickly
(see boiling point). When the molecules collide, they transfer energy to each other in varying degrees, based on how
they collide. Sometimes the transfer is so one-sided for a molecule near the surface that it ends up with enough
energy to 'escape'.
Evaporation is an essential part of the water cycle. The sun (solar energy) drives evaporation of water from oceans,
lakes, moisture in the soil, and other sources of water. In hydrology, evaporation and transpiration (which involves
evaporation within plant stomata) are collectively termed evapotranspiration. Evaporation of water occurs when the
surface of the liquid is exposed, allowing molecules to escape and form water vapor; this vapor can then rise up and
For molecules of a liquid to evaporate, they must be located near the surface, be moving in the proper direction, and
have sufficient kinetic energy to overcome liquid-phase intermolecular forces.
When only a small proportion of the
molecules meet these criteria, the rate of evaporation is low. Since the kinetic energy of a molecule is proportional to
its temperature, evaporation proceeds more quickly at higher temperatures. As the faster-moving molecules escape,
the remaining molecules have lower average kinetic energy, and the temperature of the liquid decreases. This
phenomenon is also called evaporative cooling. This is why evaporating sweat cools the human body. Evaporation
also tends to proceed more quickly with higher flow rates between the gaseous and liquid phase and in liquids with
higher vapor pressure. For example, laundry on a clothes line will dry (by evaporation) more rapidly on a windy day
than on a still day. Three key parts to evaporation are heat, atmospheric pressure (determines the percent humidity)
and air movement.
On a molecular level, there is no strict boundary between the liquid state and the vapor state. Instead, there is a
Knudsen layer, where the phase is undetermined. Because this layer is only a few molecules thick, at a macroscopic
scale a clear phase transition interface can be seen.
Liquids that do not evaporate visibly at a given temperature in a given gas (e.g., cooking oil at room temperature)
have molecules that do not tend to transfer energy to each other in a pattern sufficient to frequently give a molecule
the heat energy necessary to turn into vapor. However, these liquids are evaporating. It is just that the process is
much slower and thus significantly less visible.
Vapor pressure of water vs. temperature. 760 Torr = 1 atm.
If evaporation takes place in an enclosed area, the
escaping molecules accumulate as a vapor above the
liquid. Many of the molecules return to the liquid, with
returning molecules becoming more frequent as the
density and pressure of the vapor increases. When the
process of escape and return reaches an equilibrium,
vapor is said to be "saturated," and no further change in
either vapor pressure and density or liquid temperature
will occur. For a system consisting of vapor and liquid of
a pure substance, this equilibrium state is directly related
to the vapor pressure of the substance, as given by the
are the vapor pressures at temperatures T
is the enthalpy of vaporization, and R
is the universal gas constant. The rate of evaporation in an open system is related to the vapor pressure found in a
closed system. If a liquid is heated, when the vapor pressure reaches the ambient pressure the liquid will boil.
The ability for a molecule of a liquid to evaporate is based largely on the amount of kinetic energy an individual
particle may possess. Even at lower temperatures, individual molecules of a liquid can evaporate if they have more
than the minimum amount of kinetic energy required for vaporization.
Factors influencing the rate of evaporation
Note: Air used here is a common example; however, the vapor phase can be other gasses.
Concentration of the substance evaporating in the air
If the air already has a high concentration of the substance evaporating, then the given substance will
evaporate more slowly.
Concentration of other substances in the air
If the air is already saturated with other substances, it can have a lower capacity for the substance
Flow rate of air
This is in part related to the concentration points above. If fresh air is moving over the substance all the time,
then the concentration of the substance in the air is less likely to go up with time, thus encouraging faster
evaporation. This is the result of the boundary layer at the evaporation surface decreasing with flow velocity,
decreasing the diffusion distance in the stagnant layer.
The stronger the forces keeping the molecules together in the liquid state, the more energy one must get to
escape. This is characterized by the enthalpy of vaporization.
Evaporation happens faster if there is less exertion on the surface keeping the molecules from launching
A substance that has a larger surface area will evaporate faster, as there are more surface molecules that are
able to escape.
Temperature of the substance
If the substance is hotter, then its molecules have a higher average kinetic energy, and evaporation will be
The higher the density the slower a liquid evaporates.
In the US, the National Weather Service measures the actual rate of evaporation from a standardized "pan" open
water surface outdoors, at various locations nationwide. Others do likewise around the world. The US data is
collected and compiled into an annual evaporation map.
The measurements range from under 30 to over 120
inches (3,000 mm) per year.
Evaporation is an endothermic process, in that heat is absorbed during evaporation.
•• Industrial applications include recovering salts from solutions and drying a variety of materials such as lumber,
paper, cloth and chemicals.
• When clothes are hung on a laundry line, even though the ambient temperature is below the boiling point of
water, water evaporates. This is accelerated by factors such as low humidity, heat (from the sun), and wind. In a
clothes dryer, hot air is blown through the clothes, allowing water to evaporate very rapidly.
• The Matki/Matka, a traditional Indian porous clay container used for storing and cooling water and other liquids.
• The botijo, a traditional Spanish porous clay container designed to cool the contained water by evaporation.
• Evaporative coolers, which can significantly cool a building by simply blowing dry air over a filter saturated with
Fuel droplets vaporize as they receive heat by mixing with the hot gases in the combustion chamber. Heat (energy)
can also be received by radiation from any hot refractory wall of the combustion chamber.
The catalytic cracking of long hydro-carbon chains into the shortest molecular chains possible, vastly improves
gasoline mileage and provides reduced pollutant emissions once the fuel vapor is at its optimum ratio with air. The
chemically correct air/fuel mixture for total burning of gasoline has been determined to be 15 parts air to one part
gasoline or 15/1 by weight. Changing this to a volume ratio yields 8000 parts air to one part gasoline or 8,000/1 by
volume. Theoretically, a homogenous mixture can yield gas mileage in excess of 300 miles per gallon, however the
actual fuel mileage is highly dependent on the weight of the vehicle.
Thin films may be deposited by evaporating a substance and condensing it onto a substrate.
 Geotechnical, Rock and Water Resources Library – Grow Resource – Evaporation (http://www.grow.arizona.edu/Grow--GrowResources.
• Sze, Simon Min. Semiconductor Devices: Physics and Technology. ISBN 0-471-33372-7. Has an especially
detailed discussion of film deposition by evaporation.
Brunauer, Emmett and Teller's model of
multilayer adsorption is a random distribution of
molecules on the material surface.
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, or molecules from a gas,
liquid, or dissolved solid to a surface.
This process creates a film of
the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. This process differs
from absorption, in which a fluid (the absorbate) permeates or is
dissolved by a liquid or solid (the absorbent).
Note that adsorption is
a surface-based process while absorption involves the whole volume of
the material. The term sorption encompasses both processes, while
desorption is the reverse of adsorption. It is a surface phenomenon.
Increase in the concentration of a substance at the interface
of a condensed and a liquid or gaseous layer owing to the operation
of surface forces.
Note 1: Adsorption of proteins is of great importance when a material
is in contact with blood or body fluids. In the case of blood, albumin,
which is largely predominant, is generally adsorbed first, and then
rearrangements occur in favor of other minor proteins according to
surface affinity against mass law selection (Vroman effect).
Note 2: Adsorbed molecules are those that are resistant to washing
with the same solvent medium in the case of adsorption from
solutions. The washing conditions can thus modify the measurement
results, particularly when the interaction energy is low.
Similar to surface tension, adsorption is a consequence of surface energy. In a bulk material, all the bonding
requirements (be they ionic, covalent, or metallic) of the constituent atoms of the material are filled by other atoms in
the material. However, atoms on the surface of the adsorbent are not wholly surrounded by other adsorbent atoms
and therefore can attract adsorbates. The exact nature of the bonding depends on the details of the species involved,
but the adsorption process is generally classified as physisorption (characteristic of weak van der Waals forces) or
chemisorption (characteristic of covalent bonding). It may also occur due to electrostatic attraction.
Adsorption is present in many natural physical, biological, and chemical systems, and is widely used in industrial
applications such as activated charcoal, capturing and using waste heat to provide cold water for air conditioning and
other process requirements (adsorption chillers), synthetic resins, increase storage capacity of carbide-derived
carbons, and water purification. Adsorption, ion exchange, and chromatography are sorption processes in which
certain adsorbates are selectively transferred from the fluid phase to the surface of insoluble, rigid particles
suspended in a vessel or packed in a column. Lesser known, are the pharmaceutical industry applications as a means
to prolong neurological exposure to specific drugs or parts thereof.
The word "adsorption" was coined in 1881 by German physicist Heinrich Kayser (1853-1940).
Adsorption is usually described through isotherms, that is, the amount of adsorbate on the adsorbent as a function of
its pressure (if gas) or concentration (if liquid) at constant temperature. The quantity adsorbed is nearly always
normalized by the mass of the adsorbent to allow comparison of different materials.
The first mathematical fit to an isotherm was published by Freundlich and Küster (1894) and is a purely empirical
formula for gaseous adsorbates,
where is the quantity adsorbed, is the mass of the adsorbent, is the pressure of adsorbate and and are
empirical constants for each adsorbent-adsorbate pair at a given temperature. The function is not adequate at very
high pressure because in reality has an asymptotic maximum as pressure increases without bound. As the
temperature increases, the constants and change to reflect the empirical observation that the quantity adsorbed
rises more slowly and higher pressures are required to saturate the surface.
Irving Langmuir was the first to derive a scientifically based adsorption isotherm in 1918.
The model applies to
gases adsorbed on solid surfaces. It is a semi-empirical isotherm with a kinetic basis and was derived based on
statistical thermodynamics. It is the most common isotherm equation to use due to its simplicity and its ability to fit a
variety of adsorption data. It is based on four assumptions:
1.1. All of the adsorption sites are equivalent and each site can only accommodate one molecule.
2.2. The surface is energetically homogeneous and adsorbed molecules do not interact.
3.3. There are no phase transitions.
4.4. At the maximum adsorption, only a monolayer is formed. Adsorption only occurs on localized sites on the
surface, not with other adsorbates.
These four assumptions are seldom all true: there are always imperfections on the surface, adsorbed molecules are
not necessarily inert, and the mechanism is clearly not the same for the very first molecules to adsorb to a surface as
for the last. The fourth condition is the most troublesome, as frequently more molecules will adsorb to the
monolayer; this problem is addressed by the BET isotherm for relatively flat (non-microporous) surfaces. The
Langmuir isotherm is nonetheless the first choice for most models of adsorption, and has many applications in
surface kinetics (usually called Langmuir–Hinshelwood kinetics) and thermodynamics.
Langmuir suggested that adsorption takes place through this mechanism: , where A is a gas
molecule and S is an adsorption site. The direct and inverse rate constants are k and k
. If we define surface
coverage, , as the fraction of the adsorption sites occupied, in the equilibrium we have:
where is the partial pressure of the gas or the molar concentration of the solution. For very low pressures
and for high pressures
is difficult to measure experimentally; usually, the adsorbate is a gas and the quantity adsorbed is given in moles,
grams, or gas volumes at standard temperature and pressure (STP) per gram of adsorbent. If we call v
volume of adsorbate required to form a monolayer on the adsorbent (per gram of adsorbent), and we obtain an
expression for a straight line:
Through its slope and y-intercept we can obtain v
and K, which are constants for each adsorbent/adsorbate pair at
a given temperature. v
is related to the number of adsorption sites through the ideal gas law. If we assume that the
number of sites is just the whole area of the solid divided into the cross section of the adsorbate molecules, we can
easily calculate the surface area of the adsorbent. The surface area of an adsorbent depends on its structure; the more
pores it has, the greater the area, which has a big influence on reactions on surfaces.
If more than one gas adsorbs on the surface, we define as the fraction of empty sites and we have:
Also, we can define as the fraction of the sites occupied by the j-th gas:
where i is each one of the gases that adsorb.
Often molecules do form multilayers, that is, some are adsorbed on already adsorbed molecules and the Langmuir
isotherm is not valid. In 1938 Stephen Brunauer, Paul Emmett, and Edward Teller developed a model isotherm that
takes that possibility into account. Their theory is called BET theory, after the initials in their last names. They
modified Langmuir's mechanism as follows:
+ S ⇌ AS
+ AS ⇌ A
S ⇌ A
S and so on
Langmuir isotherm (red) and BET isotherm
The derivation of the formula is more complicated than Langmuir's
(see links for complete derivation). We obtain:
x is the pressure divided by the vapor pressure for the adsorbate at that
temperature (usually denoted ), v is the STP volume of
adsorbed adsorbate, v
is the STP volume of the amount of adsorbate
required to form a monolayer and c is the equilibrium constant K we
used in Langmuir isotherm multiplied by the vapor pressure of the
adsorbate. The key assumption used in deriving the BET equation that
the successive heats of adsorption for all layers except the first are equal to the heat of condensation of the adsorbate.
The Langmuir isotherm is usually better for chemisorption and the BET isotherm works better for physisorption for
Two adsorbate nitrogen molecules adsorbing onto
a tungsten adsorbent from the precursor state
around an island of previously adsorbed
adsorbate (left) and via random adsorption (right)
In other instances, molecular interactions between gas molecules
previously adsorbed on a solid surface form significant interactions
with gas molecules in the gaseous phases. Hence, adsorption of gas
molecules to the surface is more likely to occur around gas molecules
that are already present on the solid surface, rendering the Langmuir
adsorption isotherm ineffective for the purposes of modelling. This
effect was studied in a system where nitrogen was the adsorbate and
tungsten was the adsorbent by Paul Kisliuk (1922–2008) in 1957.
compensate for the increased probability of adsorption occurring
around molecules present on the substrate surface, Kisliuk developed
the precursor state theory, whereby molecules would enter a precursor state at the interface between the solid
adsorbent and adsorbate in the gaseous phase. From here, adsorbate molecules would either adsorb to the adsorbent
or desorb into the gaseous phase. The probability of adsorption occurring from the precursor state is dependent on
the adsorbate’s proximity to other adsorbate molecules that have already been adsorbed. If the adsorbate molecule in
the precursor state is in close proximity to an adsorbate molecule that has already formed on the surface, it has a
sticking probability reflected by the size of the S
constant and will either be adsorbed from the precursor state at a
rate of k
or will desorb into the gaseous phase at a rate of k
. If an adsorbate molecule enters the precursor state
at a location that is remote from any other previously adsorbed adsorbate molecules, the sticking probability is
reflected by the size of the S
These factors were included as part of a single constant termed a "sticking coefficient," k
, described below:
is dictated by factors that are taken into account by the Langmuir model, S
can be assumed to be the
adsorption rate constant. However, the rate constant for the Kisliuk model (R’) is different to that of the Langmuir
model, as R’ is used to represent the impact of diffusion on monolayer formation and is proportional to the square
root of the system’s diffusion coefficient. The Kisliuk adsorption isotherm is written as follows, where Θ
fractional coverage of the adsorbent with adsorbate, and t is immersion time:
Solving for Θ
Adsorption constants are equilibrium constants, therefore they obey van 't Hoff's equation:
As can be seen in the formula, the variation of K must be isosteric, that is, at constant coverage. If we start from the
BET isotherm and assume that the entropy change is the same for liquefaction and adsorption we obtain
that is to say, adsorption is more exothermic than liquefaction.
Characteristics and general requirements
Activated carbon is used as an adsorbent
Adsorbents are used usually in the form of spherical pellets, rods,
moldings, or monoliths with hydrodynamic diameters between 0.5 and
10 mm. They must have high abrasion resistance, high thermal stability
and small pore diameters, which results in higher exposed surface area
and hence high surface capacity for adsorption. The adsorbents must
also have a distinct pore structure that enables fast transport of the
Most industrial adsorbents fall into one of three classes:
• Oxygen-containing compounds – Are typically hydrophilic and
polar, including materials such as silica gel and zeolites.
• Carbon-based compounds – Are typically hydrophobic and non-polar, including materials such as activated
carbon and graphite.
• Polymer-based compounds – Are polar or non-polar functional groups in a porous polymer matrix.
Silica gel is a chemically inert, nontoxic, polar and dimensionally stable (< 400 °C or 750 °F) amorphous form of
. It is prepared by the reaction between sodium silicate and acetic acid, which is followed by a series of
after-treatment processes such as aging, pickling, etc. These after treatment methods results in various pore size
Silica is used for drying of process air (e.g. oxygen, natural gas) and adsorption of heavy (polar) hydrocarbons from
Zeolites are natural or synthetic crystalline aluminosilicates, which have a repeating pore network and release water
at high temperature. Zeolites are polar in nature.
They are manufactured by hydrothermal synthesis of sodium aluminosilicate or another silica source in an autoclave
followed by ion exchange with certain cations (Na
). The channel diameter of zeolite cages
usually ranges from 2 to 9 Å (200 to 900 pm). The ion exchange process is followed by drying of the crystals, which
can be pelletized with a binder to form macroporous pellets.
Zeolites are applied in drying of process air, CO
removal from natural gas, CO removal from reforming gas, air
separation, catalytic cracking, and catalytic synthesis and reforming.
Non-polar (siliceous) zeolites are synthesized from aluminum-free silica sources or by dealumination of
aluminum-containing zeolites. The dealumination process is done by treating the zeolite with steam at elevated
temperatures, typically greater than 500 °C (930 °F). This high temperature heat treatment breaks the
aluminum-oxygen bonds and the aluminum atom is expelled from the zeolite framework.
Activated carbon is a highly porous, amorphous solid consisting of microcrystallites with a graphite lattice, usually
prepared in small pellets or a powder. It is non-polar and cheap. One of its main drawbacks is that it is reacts with
oxygen at moderate temperatures (over 300 °C).
Activated carbon nitrogen isotherm showing a marked
microporous type I behavior
Activated carbon can be manufactured from carbonaceous
material, including coal (bituminous, subbituminous, and
lignite), peat, wood, or nutshells (e.g., coconut). The
manufacturing process consists of two phases, carbonization
and activation. The carbonization process includes drying
and then heating to separate by-products, including tars and
other hydrocarbons from the raw material, as well as to
drive off any gases generated. The process is completed by
heating the material over 400 °C (750 °F) in an oxygen-free
atmosphere that cannot support combustion. The carbonized
particles are then "activated" by exposing them to an
oxidizing agent, usually steam or carbon dioxide at high
temperature. This agent burns off the pore blocking
structures created during the carbonization phase and so,
they develop a porous, three-dimensional graphite lattice structure. The size of the pores developed during activation
is a function of the time that they spend in this stage. Longer exposure times result in larger pore sizes. The most
popular aqueous phase carbons are bituminous based because of their hardness, abrasion resistance, pore size
distribution, and low cost, but their effectiveness needs to be tested in each application to determine the optimal
Activated carbon is used for adsorption of organic substances and non-polar adsorbates and it is also usually used for
waste gas (and waste water) treatment. It is the most widely used adsorbent since most of its chemical (e.g. surface
groups) and physical properties (e.g. pore size distribution and surface area) can be tuned according to what is
needed. Its usefulness also derives from its large micropore (and sometimes mesopore) volume and the resulting high
Protein adsorption of biomaterials
Protein adsorption is a process that has a fundamental role in the field of biomaterials. Indeed, biomaterial surfaces
in contact with biological media, such as blood or serum, are immediately coated by proteins. Therefore, living cells
do not interact directly with the biomaterial surface, but with the adsorbed proteins layer. This protein layer mediates
the interaction between biomaterials and cells, translating biomaterial physical and chemical properties into a
In fact, cell membrane receptors bind to protein layer bioactive sites and these
receptor-protein binding events are transduced, through the cell membrane, in a manner that stimulates specific
intracellular processes that then determine cell adhesion, shape, growth and differentiation. Protein adsorption is
influenced by many surface properties such as surface wettability, surface chemical composition
Combining an adsorbent with a refrigerant, adsorption chillers use heat to provide a cooling effect. This heat, in the
form of hot water, may come from any number of industrial sources including waste heat from industrial processes,
prime heat from solar thermal installations or from the exhaust or water jacket heat of a piston engine or turbine.
Although there are similarities between absorption and adsorption refrigeration, the latter is based on the interaction
between gases and solids. The adsorption chamber of the chiller is filled with a solid material (for example zeolite,
silica gel, alumina, active carbon and certain types of metal salts), which in its neutral state has adsorbed the
refrigerant. When heated, the solid desorbs (releases) refrigerant vapour, which subsequently is cooled and liquefied.
This liquid refrigerant then provides its cooling effect at the evaporator, by absorbing external heat and turning back
into a vapour. In the final stage the refrigerant vapour is (re)adsorbed into the solid.
As an adsorption chiller
requires no moving parts, it is relatively quiet.
Portal site mediated adsorption
Portal site mediated adsorption is a model for site-selective activated gas adsorption in metallic catalytic systems that
contain a variety of different adsorption sites. In such systems, low-coordination "edge and corner" defect-like sites
can exhibit significantly lower adsorption enthalpies than high-coordination (basal plane) sites. As a result, these
sites can serve as "portals" for very rapid adsorption to the rest of the surface. The phenomenon relies on the
common "spillover" effect (described below), where certain adsorbed species exhibit high mobility on some
surfaces. The model explains seemingly inconsistent observations of gas adsorption thermodynamics and kinetics in
catalytic systems where surfaces can exist in a range of coordination structures, and it has been successfully applied
to bimetallic catalytic systems where synergistic activity is observed.
In contrast to pure spillover, portal site adsorption refers to surface diffusion to adjacent adsorption sites, not to
non-adsorptive support surfaces.
The model appears to have been first proposed for carbon monoxide on silica-supported platinum by Brandt et al.
A similar, but independent model was developed by King and co-workers
to describe hydrogen
adsorption on silica-supported alkali promoted ruthenium, silver-ruthenium and copper-ruthenium bimetallic
catalysts. The same group applied the model to CO hydrogenation (Fischer–Tropsch synthesis).
Zupanc et al.
(2002) subsequently confirmed the same model for hydrogen adsorption on magnesia-supported caesium-ruthenium
Trens et al. (2009) have similarly described CO surface diffusion on carbon-supported Pt
particles of varying morphology.
In the case catalytic or adsorbent systems where a metal species is dispersed upon a support (or carrier) material
(often quasi-inert oxides, such as alumina or silica), it is possible for an adsorptive species to indirectly adsorb to the
support surface under conditions where such adsorption is thermodynamically unfavorable. The presence of the
metal serves as a lower-energy pathway for gaseous species to first adsorb to the metal and then diffuse on the
support surface. This is possible because the adsorbed species attains a lower energy state once it has adsorbed to the
metal, thus lowering the activation barrier between the gas phase species and the support-adsorbed species.
Hydrogen spillover is the most common example of an adsorptive spillover. In the case of hydrogen, adsorption is
most often accompanied with dissociation of molecular hydrogen (H
) to atomic hydrogen (H), followed by spillover
of the hydrogen atoms present.
The spillover effect has been used to explain many observations in heterogeneous catalysis and adsorption.
Adsorption of molecules onto polymer surfaces is central to a number of applications, including development of
non-stick coatings and in various biomedical devices. Polymers may also be adsorbed to surfaces through
Adsorption in viruses
Adsorption is the first step in the viral life cycle. The next steps are penetration, uncoating, synthesis (transcription if
needed, and translation), and release. The virus replication cycle, in this respect, is similar for all types of viruses.
Factors such as transcription may or may not be needed if the virus is able to integrate its genomic information in the
cell's nucleus, or if the virus can replicate itself directly within the cell's cytoplasm.
In popular culture
The game of Tetris is a puzzle game in which blocks of 4 are adsorbed onto a surface during game play. Scientists
have used Tetris blocks "as a proxy for molecules with a complex shape" and their "adsorption on a flat surface" for
studying the thermodynamics of nanoparticles.
 Heinrich Kayser (1881) "Ueber die Verdichtung von Gasen an Oberflächen in ihrer Abhängigkeit von Druck und Temperatur" (http://books.
google.com/books?id=ZxVbAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA526#v=onepage&q&f=false) (On the condensation of gases on surfaces in their
dependence on pressure and temperature), Annalen der Physik und Chemie, 3rd series, vol. 12 or 248 (4) : 526–537. In this study of the
adsorption of gases by charcoal, the first use of the word "adsorption" appears on page 527: "Schon Saussure kannte die beiden für die Grösse
der Adsorption massgebenden Factoren, den Druck und die Temperatur, da er Erniedrigung des Druckes oder Erhöhung der Temperatur zur
Befreiung der porösen Körper von Gasen benutzte." (Saussaure already knew the two factors that determine the quantity of adsorption –
[namely,] the pressure and temperature – since he used the lowering of the pressure or the raising of the temperature to free the porous
substances of gases.)
 The Thermodynamics of Tetiris (http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2009/05/the-thermodynamics-of-tetris.ars), Ars Technica, 2009.
• Cussler, E. L. (1997). Diffusion: Mass Transfer in Fluid Systems (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University
Press. pp. 308–330. ISBN 0-521-45078-0.
• Derivation of Langmuir and BET isotherms (http://www.jhu.edu/~chem/fairbr/OLDS/derive.html), at
• Carbon Adsorption (http://www.megtec.com/solvent-recovery-carbon-adsorption-p-685-l-en.html), at
Drying is a mass transfer process consisting of the removal of water or another solvent
by evaporation from a solid,
semi-solid or liquid. This process is often used as a final production step before selling or packaging products. To be
considered "dried", the final product must be solid, in the form of a continuous sheet (e.g., paper), long pieces (e.g.,
wood), particles (e.g., cereal grains or corn flakes) or powder (e.g., sand, salt, washing powder, milk powder). A
source of heat and an agent to remove the vapor produced by the process are often involved. In bioproducts like
food, grains, and pharmaceuticals like vaccines, the solvent to be removed is almost invariably water.
In the most common case, a gas stream, e.g., air, applies the heat by convection and carries away the vapor as
humidity. Other possibilities are vacuum drying, where heat is supplied by conduction or radiation (or microwaves),
while the vapor thus produced is removed by the vacuum system. Another indirect technique is drum drying (used,
for instance, for manufacturing potato flakes), where a heated surface is used to provide the energy, and aspirators
draw the vapor outside the room. In contrast, the mechanical extraction of the solvent, e.g., water, by centrifugation,
is not considered "drying" but rather "draining".
In some products having a relatively high initial moisture content, an initial linear reduction of the average product
moisture content as a function of time may be observed for a limited time, often known as a "constant drying rate
period". Usually, in this period, it is surface moisture outside individual particles that is being removed. The drying
rate during this period is dependent on the rate of heat transfer to the material being dried. Therefore, the maximum
achievable drying rate is considered to be heat-transfer limited. If drying is continued, the slope of the curve, the
drying rate, becomes less steep (falling rate period) and eventually tends to nearly horizontal at very long times. The
product moisture content is then constant at the "equilibrium moisture content", where it is in dynamic equilibrium
with the dehydrating medium. In the falling-rate period, water migration from the product interior to the surface is
mostly by molecular diffusion, i,e. the water flux is proportional to the moisture content gradient. This means that
water moves from zones with higher moisture content to zones with lower values, a phenomenon explained by the
second law of thermodynamics. If water removal is considerable, the products usually undergo shrinkage and
deformation, except in a well-designed freeze-drying process. The drying rate in the falling-rate period is controlled
by the rate of removal of moisture or solvent from the interior of the solid being dried and is referred to as being
Methods of drying
In a typical phase diagram, the boundary between
gas and liquid runs from the triple point to the
critical point. Regular drying is the green arrow,
while supercritical drying is the red arrow and
freeze drying is the blue.
The following are some general methods of drying:
• Application of hot air (convective or direct drying). Air heating
increases the driving force for heat transfer and accelerates drying.
It also reduces air relative humidity, further increasing the driving
force for drying. In the falling rate period, as moisture content falls,
the solids heat up and the higher temperatures speed up diffusion of
water from the interior of the solid to the surface. However, product
quality considerations limit the applicable rise to air temperature.
Excessively hot air can almost completely dehydrate the solid
surface, so that its pores shrink and almost close, leading to crust
formation or "case hardening", which is usually undesirable. For
instance in wood (timber) drying, air is heated (which speeds up
drying) though some steam is also added to it (which hinders drying
rate to a certain extent) in order to avoid excessive surface
dehydration and product deformation owing to high moisture
gradients across timber thickness. Spray drying belongs in this
• Indirect or contact drying (heating through a hot wall), as drum drying, vacuum drying. Again, higher wall
temperatures will speed up drying but this is limited by product degradation or case-hardening. Drum drying
belongs in this category.
•• Dielectric drying (radiofrequency or microwaves being absorbed inside the material) is the focus of intense
research nowadays. It may be used to assist air drying or vacuum drying. Researchers have found that microwave
finish drying speeds up the otherwise very low drying rate at the end of the classical drying methods.
• Freeze drying or lyophilization is a drying method where the solvent is frozen prior to drying and is then
sublimed, i.e., passed to the gas phase directly from the solid phase, below the melting point of the solvent. It is
increasingly applied to dry foods, beyond its already classical pharmaceutical or medical applications. It keeps
biological properties of proteins, and retains vitamins and bioactive compounds. Pressure can be reduced by a
high vacuum pump (though freeze drying at atmospheric pressure is possible in dry air). If using a vacuum pump,
the vapor produced by sublimation is removed from the system by converting it into ice in a condenser, operating
at very low temperatures, outside the freeze drying chamber.
• Supercritical drying (superheated steam drying) involves steam drying of products containing water. This process
is feasible because water in the product is boiled off, and joined with the drying medium, increasing its flow. It is
usually employed in closed circuit and allows a proportion of latent heat to be recovered by recompression, a
feature which is not possible with conventional air drying, for instance. The process has potential for use in foods
if carried out at reduced pressure, to lower the boiling point.
• Natural air drying takes place when materials are dried with unheated forced air, taking advantage of its natural
drying potential. The process is slow and weather-dependent, so a wise strategy "fan off-fan on" must be devised
considering the following conditions: Air temperature, relative humidity and moisture content and temperature of
the material being dried. Grains are increasingly dried with this technique, and the total time (including fan off
and on periods) may last from one week to various months, if a winter rest can be tolerated in cold areas.
Applications of drying
Drying of fish in Lofoten in the production of stockfish
Foods are dried to inhibit microbial development and quality
decay. However, the extent of drying depends on product
end-use. Cereals and oilseeds are dried after harvest to the
moisture content that allows microbial stability during
storage. Vegetables are blanched before drying to avoid rapid
darkening, and drying is not only carried out to inhibit
microbial growth, but also to avoid browning during storage.
Concerning dried fruits, the reduction of moisture acts in
combination with its acid and sugar contents to provide
protection against microbial growth. Products such as milk
powder must be dried to very low moisture contents in order
to ensure flowability and avoid caking. This moisture is lower
than that required to ensure inhibition to microbial
development. Other products as crackers are dried beyond the
microbial growth threshold to confer a crispy texture, which is
liked by consumers.
Among Non-food products, those that require considerable
drying are wood (as part of Timber processing), paper and
washing powder. The first two, owing to their organic origins,
may develop mold if insufficiently dried. Another benefit of
drying is a reduction in volume and weight.
1. Greensmith, M. (1998). Practical Dehydration. Woodhead Publishing, Ltd.
2. Chemical Engineers' Handbook. Mc Graw Hill Professional. 2007. pp. Chapter 12 (Evaporative Cooling and
3. A.S., Mujumdar (1998). Handbook of Industrial Drying. Boca Ratón: CRC Press.
• European Drying Working Party; includes links to other sites worldwide (http://www.uni-magdeburg.de/ivt/
• Drying Technology (http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/link.asp?id=107829)).
• Suppliers of Perforated Metal for Dryers (http://www.hendrickmfg.com/)
• Machinery for drying solid materials (http://solidswiki.com/index.php?title=Category:Drying)
• Manufactures and suppliers of Tray Dryers (http://www.ovensandfurnaces.net/)
Membrane technology 19
Membrane technology covers all process engineering measures for the transport of substances between two fractions
with the help of permeable membranes. In general, mechanical separation processes for separating gaseous or liquid
streams use membrane technology.
Ultrafiltration for a swimming pool
Venous-arterial ECMO scheme
The particular advantage of membrane separation processes is that they
operate without heating and therefore use less energy than
conventional thermal separation processes (distillation, Sublimation or
crystallization). This separation process is purely physical and because
it is a gentle process, both fractions (permeate and retentate) can be
used. Therefore, cold separation by means of membrane processes is
commonly applied in the food technology, biotechnology and
pharmaceutical industries. Furthermore, with the help of membrane
separations realizeable that with thermal processes are not possible.
For example, because azeotropics or isomorphics crystallization
making a separation by distillation or recrystallization impossible.
Depending on the type of membrane, the selective separation of certain
individual substances or substance mixtures is possible. Important
technical applications include drinking water by reverse osmosis
(worldwide approximately 7 million cubic meters annually), filtrations
in the food industry, the recovery of organic vapors such as gasoline
vapor recovery and the electrolysis for chlorine production. But also in
wastewater treatment, the membrane technology is becoming
increasingly important. With the help of UF and MF
(Ultra-/Mikrofiltration) it is possible to remove particles, colloids and
macromolecules, so that wastewater can be disinfected in this way.
This is needed if wastewater is discharged into sensitive outfalls, or in
About half of the market has applications in medicine. As an artificial kidney to remove toxic substances by
hemodialysis and as artificial lung for bubble-free supply of oxygen in the blood. Also the importance of membrane
technology is growing in the field of environmental protection (NanoMemPro IPPC Database). Even in modern
energy recovery techniques membranes are increasingly used, for example in the fuel cell or the osmotic power
Membrane technology 20
Current market and forecast
The global demand on membrane modules was estimated at approximately 15.6 billion USD in 2012. Driven by new
developments and innovations in material science and process technologies, global increasing demands, new
applications, and others, the market is expected to grow around 8% annually in the next years. It is forecasted to
increase to 21.22 billion USD in 2016 and reach 25 billion in 2018.
For the mass transfer at the membrane, two basic models can be distinguished: the solution-diffusion model and the
hydrodynamic model. In real membranes, these two transport mechanisms certainly occur side by side, especially
during the ultrafiltration.
The transport occurs only by diffusion. The component that needs to be transported must first be dissolved in the
membrane. This principle is more important for dense membranes without natural pores such as those used for
reverse osmosis and in a fuel cell. During the filtration process a boundary layer forms on the membrane. This
concentration gradient is created by molecules which cannot pass through the membrane. The effect is referred as
concentration polarization and, occurring during the filtration, leads to a reduced transmembrane flow (flux).
Concentration polarization is, in principle, reversible by cleaning the membrane which results in the initial flux being
almost totally restored. Using a tangential flow to the membrane (cross-flow filtration) can also minimize
Transport through pores – in the simplest case – is done convectively. This requires the size of the pores to be
smaller than the diameter of the to separate components. Membranes, which function according to this principle are
used mainly in micro- and ultrafiltration. They are used to separate macromolecules from solutions, colloids from a
dispersion or remove bacteria. During this process the not passing particles or molecules are forming on the
membrane a more or less a pulpy mass (filter cake). This hampered by the blockage of the membrane the filtration.
By the so-called cross-flow method (cross-flow filtration) this can be reduced. Here, the liquid to be filtered flows
along the front of the membrane and is separated by the pressure difference between the front and back of the
fractions into retentate (the flowing concentrate) and permeate (filtrate). This creates a shear stress that cracks the
filter cake and lower the formation of fouling.
According to driving force of the operation it is possible to distinguish:
•• pressure driven operations
•• reverse osmosis
•• gas separation
•• concentration driven operations
Membrane technology 21
•• forward osmosis
•• operations in electric potential gradient
•• membrane electrolysis
•• operations in temperature gradient
•• membrane distillation
Membrane shapes and flow geometries
There are two main flow configurations of
membrane processes: cross-flow and
dead-end filtrations. In cross-flow filtration
the feed flow is tangential to the surface of
membrane, retentate is removed from the
same side further downstream, whereas the
permeate flow is tracked on the other side.
In dead-end filtration the direction of the
fluid flow is normal to the membrane
surface. Both flow geometries offer some
advantages and disadvantages. The
dead-end membranes are relatively easy to
fabricate which reduces the cost of the
separation process. The dead-end membrane
separation process is easy to implement and
the process is usually cheaper than
cross-flow membrane filtration. The
dead-end filtration process is usually a
batch-type process, where the filtering
solution is loaded (or slowly fed) into
membrane device, which then allows
passage of some particles subject to the
driving force. The main disadvantage of a
dead end filtration is the extensive
membrane fouling and concentration
polarization. The fouling is usually induced
faster at the higher driving forces.
Membrane fouling and particle retention in a
feed solution also builds up a concentration
gradients and particle backflow (concentration polarization). The tangential flow devices are more cost and labor
intensive, but they are less susceptible to fouling due to the sweeping effects and high shear rates of the passing flow.
The most commonly used synthetic membrane devices (modules) are flat plates, spiral wounds, and hollow fibers.
Flat plates are usually constructed as circular thin flat membrane surfaces to be used in dead-end geometry modules.
Spiral wounds are constructed from similar flat membranes but in a form of a “pocket” containing two membrane
sheets separated by a highly porous support plate.
Several such pockets are then wound around a tube to create a
tangential flow geometry and to reduce membrane fouling. Hollow fiber modules consist of an assembly of
Membrane technology 22
self-supporting fibers with a dense skin separation layers, and more open matrix helping to withstand pressure
gradients and maintain structural integrity.
The hollow fiber modules can contain up to 10,000 fibers ranging from
200 to 2500 μm in diameter; The main advantage of hollow fiber modules is very large surface area within an
enclosed volume, increasing the efficiency of the separation process.
Spiral wound membrane module.
Hollow fiber membrane module. Separation of air in oxygen and nitrogen through a membrane
Membrane performance and governing equations
The selection of synthetic membranes for a targeted separation process is usually based on few requirements.
Membranes have to provide enough mass transfer area to process large amounts of feed stream. The selected
membrane has to have high selectivity (rejection) properties for certain particles; it has to resist fouling and to
have high mechanical stability. It also needs to be reproducible and to have low manufacturing costs. The main
modeling equation for the dead-end filtration at constant pressure drop is represented by Darcy’s law:
and Q are the volume of the permeate and its volumetric flow rate respectively (proportional to same
characteristics of the feed flow), μ is dynamic viscosity of permeating fluid, A is membrane area, R
and R are the
respective resistances of membrane and growing deposit of the foulants. R
can be interpreted as a membrane
resistance to the solvent (water) permeation. This resistance is a membrane intrinsic property and expected to be
fairly constant and independent of the driving force, Δp. R is related to the type of membrane foulant, its
concentration in the filtering solution, and the nature of foulant-membrane interactions. Darcy’s law allows to
calculate the membrane area for a targeted separation at given conditions. The solute sieving coefficient is defined
Membrane technology 23
by the equation:
are the solute concentrations in feed and permeate respectively. Hydraulic permeability is defined as
the inverse of resistance and is represented by the equation:
where J is the permeate flux which is the volumetric flow rate per unit of membrane area. The solute sieving
coefficient and hydraulic permeability allow the quick assessment of the synthetic membrane performance.
Membrane separation processes
Membrane separation processes have very important role in separation industry. Nevertheless, they were not
considered technically important until mid-1970. Membrane separation processes differ based on separation
mechanisms and size of the separated particles. The widely used membrane processes include microfiltration,
ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, reverse osmosis, electrolysis, dialysis, electrodialysis, gas separation, vapor
permeation, pervaporation, membrane distillation, and membrane contactors.
All processes except for
pervaporation involve no phase change. All processes except (electro)dialysis are pressure driven. Microfltration and
ultrafiltration is widely used in food and beverage processing (beer microfiltration, apple juice ultrafiltration),
biotechnological applications and pharmaceutical industry (antibiotic production, protein purification), water
purification and wastewater treatment, microelectronics industry, and others. Nanofiltration and reverse osmosis
membranes are mainly used for water purification purposes. Dense membranes are utilized for gas separations
(removal of CO
from natural gas, separating N
from air, organic vapor removal from air or nitrogen stream) and
sometimes in membrane distillation. The later process helps in separating of azeotropic compositions reducing the
costs of distillation processes.
Membrane technology 24
Ranges of membrane based separations.
 Osada, Y., Nakagawa, T., Membrane Science and Technology, New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc,1992.
 Pinnau, I., Freeman, B.D., Membrane Formation and Modification, ACS, 1999.
• Osada, Y., Nakagawa, T., Membrane Science and Technology, New York: Marcel Dekker, Inc,1992.
• Zeman, Leos J., Zydney, Andrew L., Microfiltration and Ultrafitration, Principles and Applications., New York:
Marcel Dekker, Inc,1996.
• Mulder M., Basic Principles of Membrane Technology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands, 1996.
• Jornitz, Maik W., Sterile Filtration, Springer, Germany, 2006
• Van Reis R., Zydney A. Bioprocess membrane technology. J Mem Sci. 297(2007): 16-50.
• Templin T., Johnston D., Singh V., Tumbleson M.E., Belyea R.L. Rausch K.D. Membrane separation of solids
from corn processing streams. Biores Tech. 97(2006): 1536-1545.
• Ripperger S., Schulz G. Microporous membranes in biotechnical applications. Bioprocess Eng. 1(1986): 43-49.
• Thomas Melin, Robert Rautenbach, Membranverfahren, Springer, Germany, 2007, ISBN 3-540-00071-2.
• Munir Cheryan, Handbuch Ultrafiltration, Behr, 1990, ISBN 3-925673-87-3.
• Eberhard Staude, Membranen und Membranprozesse, VCH, 1992, ISBN 3-527-28041-3.
Laboratory display of distillation: 1: A heating
device 2: Still pot 3: Still head 4:
Thermometer/Boiling point temperature 5:
Condenser 6: Cooling water in 7: Cooling water
out 8: Distillate/receiving flask 9: Vacuum/gas
inlet 10: Still receiver 11: Heat control 12: Stirrer
speed control 13: Stirrer/heat plate 14: Heating
(Oil/sand) bath 15: Stirring means e.g.(shown),
boiling chips or mechanical stirrer 16: Cooling
Distillation is a method of separating mixtures based on differences in
volatility of components in a boiling liquid mixture. Distillation is a
unit operation, or a physical separation process, and not a chemical
Commercially, distillation has a number of applications. It is used to
separate crude oil into more fractions for specific uses such as
transport, power generation and heating. Water is distilled to remove
impurities, such as salt from seawater. Air is distilled to separate its
components—notably oxygen, nitrogen, and argon— for industrial use.
Distillation of fermented solutions has been used since ancient times to
produce distilled beverages with a higher alcohol content. The
premises where distillation is carried out, especially distillation of
alcohol, are known as a distillery. A still is the apparatus used for
Distillation apparatus of Zosimos of Panopolis,
from Marcelin Berthelot, Collection des anciens
alchimistes grecs (3 vol., Paris, 1887–1888).
The first evidence of distillation comes from Greek alchemists working
in Alexandria in the 1st century AD.
Distilled water has been known
since at least c. 200, when Alexander of Aphrodisias described the
Distillation in China could have begun during the Eastern
Han Dynasty (1st–2nd centuries), but archaeological evidence
indicates that actual distillation of beverages began in the Jin and
Southern Song dynasties.
A still was found in an archaeological site
in Qinglong, Hebei province dating to the 12th century. Distilled
beverages were more common during the Yuan dynasty.
learned the process from the Alexandrians and used it extensively in
their chemical experiments
Clear evidence of the distillation of alcohol comes from the School of
Salerno in the 12th century.
Fractional distillation was developed
by Tadeo Alderotti in the 13th century.
In 1500, German alchemist Hieronymus Braunschweig published Liber de arte destillandi (The Book of the Art of
the first book solely dedicated to the subject of distillation, followed in 1512 by a much expanded
version. In 1651, John French published The Art of Distillation
the first major English compendium of practice,
though it has been claimed
that much of it derives from Braunschweig's work. This includes diagrams with people
in them showing the industrial rather than bench scale of the operation.
Hieronymus Brunschwig’s Liber de arte
Distillandi de Compositis (Strassburg, 1512)
Chemical Heritage Foundation
As alchemy evolved into the science of chemistry, vessels called
retorts became used for distillations. Both alembics and retorts are
forms of glassware with long necks pointing to the side at a downward
angle which acted as air-cooled condensers to condense the distillate
and let it drip downward for collection. Later, copper alembics were
invented. Riveted joints were often kept tight by using various
mixtures, for instance a dough made of rye flour.
often featured a cooling system around the beak, using cold water for
instance, which made the condensation of alcohol more efficient.
These were called pot stills. Today, the retorts and pot stills have been
largely supplanted by more efficient distillation methods in most
industrial processes. However, the pot still is still widely used for the
elaboration of some fine alcohols such as cognac, Scotch whisky,
tequila and some vodkas. Pot stills made of various materials (wood,
clay, stainless steel) are also used by bootleggers in various countries.
Small pot stills are also sold for the domestic production
water or essential oils.
Early forms of distillation were batch processes using one vaporization
and one condensation. Purity was improved by further distillation of the condensate. Greater volumes were
processed by simply repeating the distillation. Chemists were reported to carry out as many as 500 to 600
distillations in order to obtain a pure compound.
Old Ukrainian vodka still
Simple liqueur distillation in East Timor
In the early 19th century the basics of modern techniques including
pre-heating and reflux were developed, particularly by the French,
then in 1830 a British Patent was issued to Aeneas Coffey for a
whiskey distillation column,
which worked continuously and may
be regarded as the archetype of modern petrochemical units. In 1877,
Ernest Solvay was granted a U.S. Patent for a tray column for
and the same and subsequent years saw
developments of this theme for oil and spirits.
With the emergence of chemical engineering as a discipline at the end
of the 19th century, scientific rather than empirical methods could be
applied. The developing petroleum industry in the early 20th century
provided the impetus for the development of accurate design methods
such as the McCabe-Thiele method and the Fenske equation. The
availability of powerful computers has also allowed direct computer
simulation of distillation columns.
Applications of distillation
The application of distillation can roughly be divided in four groups: laboratory scale, industrial distillation,
distillation of herbs for perfumery and medicinals (herbal distillate), and food processing. The latter two are
distinctively different from the former two in that in the processing of beverages, the distillation is not used as a true
purification method but more to transfer all volatiles from the source materials to the distillate.
The main difference between laboratory scale distillation and industrial distillation is that laboratory scale distillation
is often performed batch-wise, whereas industrial distillation often occurs continuously. In batch distillation, the
composition of the source material, the vapors of the distilling compounds and the distillate change during the
distillation. In batch distillation, a still is charged (supplied) with a batch of feed mixture, which is then separated
into its component fractions which are collected sequentially from most volatile to less volatile, with the bottoms
(remaining least or non-volatile fraction) removed at the end. The still can then be recharged and the process
In continuous distillation, the source materials, vapors, and distillate are kept at a constant composition by carefully
replenishing the source material and removing fractions from both vapor and liquid in the system. This results in a
better control of the separation process.
Idealized distillation model
The boiling point of a liquid is the temperature at which the vapor pressure of the liquid equals the pressure in the
liquid, enabling bubbles to form without being crushed. A special case is the normal boiling point, where the vapor
pressure of the liquid equals the ambient atmospheric pressure.
It is a common misconception that in a liquid mixture at a given pressure, each component boils at the boiling point
corresponding to the given pressure and the vapors of each component will collect separately and purely. This,
however, does not occur even in an idealized system. Idealized models of distillation are essentially governed by
Raoult's law and Dalton's law, and assume that vapor-liquid equilibria are attained.
Raoult's law assumes that a component contributes to the total vapor pressure of the mixture in proportion to its
percentage of the mixture and its vapor pressure when pure, or succinctly: partial pressure equals mole fraction
multiplied by vapor pressure when pure. If one component changes another component's vapor pressure, or if the
volatility of a component is dependent on its percentage in the mixture, the law will fail.
Dalton's law states that the total vapor pressure is the sum of the vapor pressures of each individual component in the
mixture. When a multi-component liquid is heated, the vapor pressure of each component will rise, thus causing the
total vapor pressure to rise. When the total vapor pressure reaches the pressure surrounding the liquid, boiling occurs
and liquid turns to gas throughout the bulk of the liquid. Note that a mixture with a given composition has one
boiling point at a given pressure, when the components are mutually soluble.
An implication of one boiling point is that lighter components never cleanly "boil first". At boiling point, all volatile
components boil, but for a component, its percentage in the vapor is the same as its percentage of the total vapor
pressure. Lighter components have a higher partial pressure and thus are concentrated in the vapor, but heavier
volatile components also have a (smaller) partial pressure and necessarily evaporate also, albeit being less
concentrated in the vapor. Indeed, batch distillation and fractionation succeed by varying the composition of the
mixture. In batch distillation, the batch evaporates, which changes its composition; in fractionation, liquid higher in
the fractionation column contains more lights and boils at lower temperatures.
The idealized model is accurate in the case of chemically similar liquids, such as benzene and toluene. In other cases,
severe deviations from Raoult's law and Dalton's law are observed, most famously in the mixture of ethanol and
water. These compounds, when heated together, form an azeotrope, which is a composition with a boiling point
higher or lower than the boiling point of each separate liquid. Virtually all liquids, when mixed and heated, will
display azeotropic behaviour. Although there are computational methods that can be used to estimate the behavior of
a mixture of arbitrary components, the only way to obtain accurate vapor-liquid equilibrium data is by measurement.
It is not possible to completely purify a mixture of components by distillation, as this would require each component
in the mixture to have a zero partial pressure. If ultra-pure products are the goal, then further chemical separation
must be applied. When a binary mixture is evaporated and the other component, e.g. a salt, has zero partial pressure
for practical purposes, the process is simpler and is called evaporation in engineering.
A batch still showing the separation of A and B.
Heating an ideal mixture of two volatile substances A and B (with A
having the higher volatility, or lower boiling point) in a batch
distillation setup (such as in an apparatus depicted in the opening
figure) until the mixture is boiling results in a vapor above the liquid
which contains a mixture of A and B. The ratio between A and B in the
vapor will be different from the ratio in the liquid: the ratio in the
liquid will be determined by how the original mixture was prepared,
while the ratio in the vapor will be enriched in the more volatile
compound, A (due to Raoult's Law, see above). The vapor goes
through the condenser and is removed from the system. This in turn means that the ratio of compounds in the
remaining liquid is now different from the initial ratio (i.e. more enriched in B than the starting liquid).
The result is that the ratio in the liquid mixture is changing, becoming richer in component B. This causes the boiling
point of the mixture to rise, which in turn results in a rise in the temperature in the vapor, which results in a changing
ratio of A : B in the gas phase (as distillation continues, there is an increasing proportion of B in the gas phase). This
results in a slowly changing ratio A : B in the distillate.
If the difference in vapor pressure between the two components A and B is large (generally expressed as the
difference in boiling points), the mixture in the beginning of the distillation is highly enriched in component A, and
when component A has distilled off, the boiling liquid is enriched in component B.
Continuous distillation is an ongoing distillation in which a liquid mixture is continuously (without interruption) fed
into the process and separated fractions are removed continuously as output streams as time passes during the
operation. Continuous distillation produces at least two output fractions, including at least one volatile distillate
fraction, which has boiled and been separately captured as a vapor condensed to a liquid. There is always a bottoms
(or residue) fraction, which is the least volatile residue that has not been separately captured as a condensed vapor.
Continuous distillation differs from batch distillation in the respect that concentrations should not change over time.
Continuous distillation can be run at a steady state for an arbitrary amount of time. For any source material of
specific composition, the main variables that affect the purity of products in continuous distillation are the reflux
ratio and the number of theoretical equilibrium stages (practically, the number of trays or the height of packing).
Reflux is a flow from the condenser back to the column, which generates a recycle that allows a better separation
with a given number of trays. Equilibrium stages are ideal steps where compositions achieve vapor-liquid
equilibrium, repeating the separation process and allowing better separation given a reflux ratio. A column with a
high reflux ratio may have fewer stages, but it refluxes a large amount of liquid, giving a wide column with a large
holdup. Conversely, a column with a low reflux ratio must have a large number of stages, thus requiring a taller
Both batch and continuous distillations can be improved by making use of a fractionating column on top of the
distillation flask. The column improves separation by providing a larger surface area for the vapor and condensate to
come into contact. This helps it remain at equilibrium for as long as possible. The column can even consist of small
subsystems ('trays' or 'dishes') which all contain an enriched, boiling liquid mixture, all with their own vapor-liquid
There are differences between laboratory-scale and industrial-scale fractionating columns, but the principles are the
same. Examples of laboratory-scale fractionating columns (in increasing efficiency) include:
•• Air condenser
• Vigreux column (usually laboratory scale only)
• Packed column (packed with glass beads, metal pieces, or other chemically inert material)
• Spinning band distillation system.
Laboratory scale distillation
Typical laboratory distillation unit
Laboratory scale distillations are
almost exclusively run as batch
distillations. The device used in
distillation, sometimes referred to as a
still, consists at a minimum of a
reboiler or pot in which the source
material is heated, a condenser in
which the heated vapour is cooled back
to the liquid state, and a receiver in
which the concentrated or purified
liquid, called the distillate, is
collected. Several laboratory scale
techniques for distillation exist (see
also distillation types).
In simple distillation, the vapor is immediately channeled into a condenser. Consequently, the distillate is not pure
but rather its composition is identical to the composition of the vapors at the given temperature and pressure. That
concentration follows Raoult's law.
As a result, simple distillation is effective only when the liquid boiling points differ greatly (rule of thumb is
or when separating liquids from non-volatile solids or oils. For these cases, the vapor pressures of the
components are usually sufficiently different that the distillate may be sufficiently pure for its intended purpose.
For many cases, the boiling points of the components in the mixture will be sufficiently close that Raoult's law must
be taken into consideration. Therefore, fractional distillation must be used in order to separate the components by
repeated vaporization-condensation cycles within a packed fractionating column. This separation, by successive
distillations, is also referred to as rectification.
As the solution to be purified is heated, its vapors rise to the fractionating column. As it rises, it cools, condensing on
the condenser walls and the surfaces of the packing material. Here, the condensate continues to be heated by the
rising hot vapors; it vaporizes once more. However, the composition of the fresh vapors are determined once again
by Raoult's law. Each vaporization-condensation cycle (called a theoretical plate) will yield a purer solution of the
more volatile component.
In reality, each cycle at a given temperature does not occur at exactly the same position
in the fractionating column; theoretical plate is thus a concept rather than an accurate description.
More theoretical plates lead to better separations. A spinning band distillation system uses a spinning band of Teflon
or metal to force the rising vapors into close contact with the descending condensate, increasing the number of
Like vacuum distillation, steam distillation is a method for distilling compounds which are heat-sensitive.
temperature of the steam is easier to control than the surface of a heating element, and allows a high rate of heat
transfer without heating at a very high temperature. This process involves bubbling steam through a heated mixture
of the raw material. By Raoult's law, some of the target compound will vaporize (in accordance with its partial
pressure). The vapor mixture is cooled and condensed, usually yielding a layer of oil and a layer of water.
Steam distillation of various aromatic herbs and flowers can result in two products; an essential oil as well as a
watery herbal distillate. The essential oils are often used in perfumery and aromatherapy while the watery distillates
have many applications in aromatherapy, food processing and skin care.
Dimethyl sulfoxide usually boils at 189 °C.
Under a vacuum, it distills off into the receiver at
only 70 °C.
Some compounds have very high boiling points. To boil such
compounds, it is often better to lower the pressure at which such
compounds are boiled instead of increasing the temperature. Once the
pressure is lowered to the vapor pressure of the compound (at the given
temperature), boiling and the rest of the distillation process can
commence. This technique is referred to as vacuum distillation and it
is commonly found in the laboratory in the form of the rotary
This technique is also very useful for compounds which boil beyond
their decomposition temperature at atmospheric pressure and which
would therefore be decomposed by any attempt to boil them under
Molecular distillation is vacuum distillation below the pressure of
0.01 torr is one order of magnitude above high vacuum,
where fluids are in the free molecular flow regime, i.e. the mean free
path of molecules is comparable to the size of the equipment. The
gaseous phase no longer exerts significant pressure on the substance to be evaporated, and consequently, rate of
evaporation no longer depends on pressure. That is, because the continuum assumptions of fluid dynamics no longer
apply, mass transport is governed by molecular dynamics rather than fluid dynamics. Thus, a short path between the
hot surface and the cold surface is necessary, typically by suspending a hot plate covered with a film of feed next to a
cold plate with a line of sight in between. Molecular distillation is used industrially for purification of oils.
Air-sensitive vacuum distillation
Some compounds have high boiling points as well as being air sensitive. A simple vacuum distillation system as
exemplified above can be used, whereby the vacuum is replaced with an inert gas after the distillation is complete.
However, this is a less satisfactory system if one desires to collect fractions under a reduced pressure. To do this a
Perkin triangle distillation setup
1: Stirrer bar/anti-bumping granules 2: Still pot
3: Fractionating column 4: Thermometer/Boiling
point temperature 5: Teflon tap 1 6: Cold finger
7: Cooling water out 8: Cooling water in 9:
Teflon tap 2 10: Vacuum/gas inlet 11: Teflon tap
3 12: Still receiver
"cow" or "pig" adaptor can be added to the end of the condenser, or for
better results or for very air sensitive compounds a Perkin triangle
apparatus can be used.
The Perkin triangle, has means via a series of glass or Teflon taps to
allows fractions to be isolated from the rest of the still, without the
main body of the distillation being removed from either the vacuum or
heat source, and thus can remain in a state of reflux. To do this, the
sample is first isolated from the vacuum by means of the taps, the
vacuum over the sample is then replaced with an inert gas (such as
nitrogen or argon) and can then be stoppered and removed. A fresh
collection vessel can then be added to the system, evacuated and linked
back into the distillation system via the taps to collect a second
fraction, and so on, until all fractions have been collected.
Short path distillation
Short path vacuum distillation apparatus with
vertical condenser (cold finger), to minimize the
distillation path; 1: Still pot with stirrer
bar/anti-bumping granules 2: Cold finger – bent
to direct condensate 3: Cooling water out 4:
cooling water in 5: Vacuum/gas inlet 6: Distillate
Short path distillation is a distillation technique that involves the
distillate travelling a short distance, often only a few centimeters, and
is normally done at reduced pressure.
A classic example would be a
distillation involving the distillate travelling from one glass bulb to
another, without the need for a condenser separating the two chambers.
This technique is often used for compounds which are unstable at high
temperatures or to purify small amounts of compound. The advantage
is that the heating temperature can be considerably lower (at reduced
pressure) than the boiling point of the liquid at standard pressure, and
the distillate only has to travel a short distance before condensing. A
short path ensures that little compound is lost on the sides of the
apparatus. The Kugelrohr is a kind of a short path distillation apparatus
which often contain multiple chambers to collect distillate fractions.
Zone distillation is a distillation process in long container with partial
melting of refined matter in moving liquid zone and condensation of
vapor in the solid phase at condensate pulling in cold area. The process is worked in theory. When zone heater is
moving from the top to the bottom of the container then solid condensate with irregular impurity distribution is
forming. Then most pure part of the condensate may be extracted as product. The process may be iterated many
times by moving (without turnover) the received condensate to the bottom part of the container on the place of
refined matter. The irregular impurity distribution in the condensate (that is efficiency of purification) increases with
number of repetitions of the process. Zone distillation is a distillation analog of zone recrystallization. Impurity
distribution in the condensate is described by known equations of zone recrystallization with various numbers of
iteration of process – with replacement distribution efficient k of crystallization on separation factor α of
• The process of reactive distillation involves using the reaction vessel as the still. In this process, the product is
usually significantly lower-boiling than its reactants. As the product is formed from the reactants, it is vaporized
and removed from the reaction mixture. This technique is an example of a continuous vs. a batch process;
advantages include less downtime to charge the reaction vessel with starting material, and less workup.
• Catalytic distillation is the process by which the reactants are catalyzed while being distilled to continuously
separate the products from the reactants. This method is used to assist equilibrium reactions reach completion.
• Pervaporation is a method for the separation of mixtures of liquids by partial vaporization through a non-porous
• Extractive distillation is defined as distillation in the presence of a miscible, high boiling, relatively non-volatile
component, the solvent, that forms no azeotrope with the other components in the mixture.
• Flash evaporation (or partial evaporation) is the partial vaporization that occurs when a saturated liquid stream
undergoes a reduction in pressure by passing through a throttling valve or other throttling device. This process is
one of the simplest unit operations, being equivalent to a distillation with only one equilibrium stage.
•• Codistillation is distillation which is performed on mixtures in which the two compounds are not miscible.
The unit process of evaporation may also be called "distillation":
• In rotary evaporation a vacuum distillation apparatus is used to remove bulk solvents from a sample. Typically the
vacuum is generated by a water aspirator or a membrane pump.
• In a kugelrohr a short path distillation apparatus is typically used (generally in combination with a (high) vacuum)
to distill high boiling (> 300 °C) compounds. The apparatus consists of an oven in which the compound to be
distilled is placed, a receiving portion which is outside of the oven, and a means of rotating the sample. The
vacuum is normally generated by using a high vacuum pump.
• Dry distillation or destructive distillation, despite the name, is not truly distillation, but rather a chemical reaction
known as pyrolysis in which solid substances are heated in an inert or reducing atmosphere and any volatile
fractions, containing high-boiling liquids and products of pyrolysis, are collected. The destructive distillation of
wood to give methanol is the root of its common name – wood alcohol.
• Freeze distillation is an analogous method of purification using freezing instead of evaporation. It is not truly
distillation, but a recrystallization where the product is the mother liquor, and does not produce products
equivalent to distillation. This process is used in the production of ice beer and ice wine to increase ethanol and
sugar content, respectively. It is also used to produce applejack. Unlike distillation, freeze distillation concentrates
poisonous congeners rather than removing them; As a result, many countries prohibit such applejack as a health
measure. However, reducing methanol with the absorption of 4A molecular sieve is a practical method for
Also, distillation by evaporation can separate these since they have different boiling points.
Interactions between the components of the solution create properties unique to the solution, as most processes entail
nonideal mixtures, where Raoult's law does not hold. Such interactions can result in a constant-boiling azeotrope
which behaves as if it were a pure compound (i.e., boils at a single temperature instead of a range). At an azeotrope,
the solution contains the given component in the same proportion as the vapor, so that evaporation does not change
the purity, and distillation does not effect separation. For example, ethyl alcohol and water form an azeotrope of
95.6% at 78.1 °C.
If the azeotrope is not considered sufficiently pure for use, there exist some techniques to break the azeotrope to give
a pure distillate. This set of techniques are known as azeotropic distillation. Some techniques achieve this by
"jumping" over the azeotropic composition (by adding an additional component to create a new azeotrope, or by
varying the pressure). Others work by chemically or physically removing or sequestering the impurity. For example,
to purify ethanol beyond 95%, a drying agent or a (desiccant such as potassium carbonate) can be added to convert
the soluble water into insoluble water of crystallization. Molecular sieves are often used for this purpose as well.
Immiscible liquids, such as water and toluene, easily form azeotropes. Commonly, these azeotropes are referred to as
a low boiling azeotrope because the boiling point of the azeotrope is lower than the boiling point of either pure
component. The temperature and composition of the azeotrope is easily predicted from the vapor pressure of the pure
components, without use of Raoult's law. The azeotrope is easily broken in a distillation set-up by using a
liquid-liquid separator (a decanter) to separate the two liquid layers that are condensed overhead. Only one of the
two liquid layers is refluxed to the distillation set-up.
High boiling azeotropes, such as a 20 weight percent mixture of hydrochloric acid in water, also exist. As implied by
the name, the boiling point of the azeotrope is greater than the boiling point of either pure component.
To break azeotropic distillations and cross distillation boundaries, such as in the DeRosier Problem, it is necessary to
increase the composition of the light key in the distillate.
Breaking an azeotrope with unidirectional pressure manipulation
The boiling points of components in an azeotrope overlap to form a band. By exposing an azeotrope to a vacuum or
positive pressure, it's possible to bias the boiling point of one component away from the other by exploiting the
differing vapour pressure curves of each; the curves may overlap at the azeotropic point, but are unlikely to be
remain identical further along the pressure axis either side of the azeotropic point. When the bias is great enough, the
two boiling points no longer overlap and so the azeotropic band disappears.
This method can remove the need to add other chemicals to a distillation, but it has two potential drawbacks.
Under negative pressure, power for a vacuum source is needed and the reduced boiling points of the distillates
requires that the condenser be run cooler to prevent distillate vapours being lost to the vacuum source. Increased
cooling demands will often require additional energy and possibly new equipment or a change of coolant.
Alternatively, if positive pressures are required, standard glassware can not be used, energy must be used for
pressurization and there is a higher chance of side reactions occurring in the distillation, such as decomposition, due
to the higher temperatures required to effect boiling.
A unidirectional distillation will rely on a pressure change in one direction, either positive or negative.
Pressure-swing distillation is essentially the same as the unidirectional distillation used to break azeotropic mixtures,
but here both positive and negative pressures may be employed. Wikipedia:Please clarify
This has an important impact on the selectivity of the distillation and allows a chemist
to optimize a
process such that fewer extremes of pressure and temperature are required and less energy is consumed. This is
particularly important in commercial applications.
Pressure-swing distillation is employed during the industrial purification of ethyl acetate after its catalytic synthesis
Typical industrial distillation towers
Large scale industrial distillation applications include both batch and
continuous fractional, vacuum, azeotropic, extractive, and steam
distillation. The most widely used industrial applications of
continuous, steady-state fractional distillation are in petroleum
refineries, petrochemical and chemical plants and natural gas
is typically performed in large, vertical
cylindrical columns known as distillation towers or distillation
columns with diameters ranging from about 65 centimeters to 16
meters and heights ranging from about 6 meters to 90 meters or more.
When the process feed has a diverse composition, as in distilling crude
oil, liquid outlets at intervals up the column allow for the withdrawal of
different fractions or products having different boiling points or boiling
ranges. The "lightest" products (those with the lowest boiling point)
exit from the top of the columns and the "heaviest" products (those
with the highest boiling point) exit from the bottom of the column and
are often called the bottoms.
Diagram of a typical industrial distillation tower
Industrial towers use reflux to achieve a more complete separation of
products. Reflux refers to the portion of the condensed overhead liquid
product from a distillation or fractionation tower that is returned to the
upper part of the tower as shown in the schematic diagram of a typical,
large-scale industrial distillation tower. Inside the tower, the
downflowing reflux liquid provides cooling and condensation of the
upflowing vapors thereby increasing the efficiency of the distillation
tower. The more reflux that is provided for a given number of
theoretical plates, the better the tower's separation of lower boiling
materials from higher boiling materials. Alternatively, the more reflux
that is provided for a given desired separation, the fewer the number of
theoretical plates required.
Such industrial fractionating towers are also used in air separation,
producing liquid oxygen, liquid nitrogen, and high purity argon.
Distillation of chlorosilanes also enables the production of high-purity
silicon for use as a semiconductor.
Section of an industrial distillation tower showing
detail of trays with bubble caps
Design and operation of a distillation tower depends on the feed and
desired products. Given a simple, binary component feed, analytical
methods such as the McCabe-Thiele method
or the Fenske equation
can be used. For a multi-component feed, simulation models are used
both for design and operation. Moreover, the efficiencies of the
vapor-liquid contact devices (referred to as "plates" or "trays") used in
distillation towers are typically lower than that of a theoretical 100%
efficient equilibrium stage. Hence, a distillation tower needs more trays
than the number of theoretical vapor-liquid equilibrium stages.
In modern industrial uses, a packing material is used in the column
instead of trays when low pressure drops across the column are
required. Other factors that favor packing are: vacuum systems, smaller
diameter columns, corrosive systems, systems prone to foaming,
systems requiring low liquid holdup and batch distillation. Conversely, factors that favor plate columns are: presence
of solids in feed, high liquid rates, large column diameters, complex columns, columns with wide feed composition
variation, columns with a chemical reaction, absorption columns, columns limited by foundation weight tolerance,
low liquid rate, large turn-down ratio and those processes subject to process surges.