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Distillation is defined as a process in which liquid or vapor mixture of two or more

substances is separated into its component fractions of desired purity, by the
application and removal of heat.
Distillation is based on the fact that the vapor of a boiling mixture will be
richer in the components that have lower boiling points, therefore when this vapor is
cooled and condensed, the condensate will contain more volatile components. At the
same time, the original mixture will contain more of the less volatile material.
There are many types of distillation column, each designed to perform specific
types of separation, and each differs in terms of complexity;
I. Batch column: in batch operation, the feed to the column is introduced
batch-wise. That is, the column is charge with a `batch` and then the
distillation process is carried out. When the desired task is achieved, a
next batch of feed is introduced.
II. Continuous column: in contrast, continuous columns process a
continuous feed stream. No interruptions occur unless there is a
problem with the column or surrounding process unit. They are
capable of handling high throughputs and are the most common of the
two types, trays column and packed column;
a. Binary column – feed contains only two components
b. Multi-component column – feed contains more than two
c. Tray column(internal) – where trays of various design are used
to hold up the liquid to provide better contract between vapor
and liquid
d. Packed column – where instead of trays `packings` are used to
enhance contact between vapor and liquid.

Distillation columns are made up of several components, each of which is
used either to transfer heat energy or enhance material transfer. A typical distillation
contains several major components:
I. A vertical shell where the separation of fluid components is carried
II. Column internals such as trays/plates or packings which are used to
enhance components separations
III. A reboiler to provide the necessary vaporization for the distillation
IV. A condenser to cool and condensed the vapor leaving the top of the
V. A reflux drums to hold the condensed vapor from the top of the
column so that liquid (reflux) can be recycle back to the column.
Operation and terminology; the liquid mixture that is to be processed is known
as the feed and this is introduced usually somewhere near the middle of the column to
a tray known as the feed tray. The feed tray divides the column into a top (enriching)
section and bottom (stripping) section. The feed flows down the column where it is
collected at the bottom in the reboiler. Heat is supplied to the reboiler to generate
vapor. The source of heat input can be any suitable fluid, although in most chemical
plants this is normally stream. In vapor raised in the reboiler is re-introduced into the
unit at the bottom of the column. The liquid removed from the reboiler is known as
the bottom product.
The vapor moves up the column, and as it exits the top of the unit, it is cooled
by a condenser. The condensed liquid is stored in a holding vessel known as the
reflux drum. Some of this liquid is recycled back to the top of the column and this is
called the reflux. The condensed liquid that is removed from the system is known as
the distillate or top product.
Thus, there are internal flows of vapor and liquid within the column as well as
external flows of feeds and product streams, into and out of the column.

Main Components of Distillation Column
Figure 1,

• A vertical shell where separation of liquid components is done.

• Column internals e.g.trays/plates and/or packings which are used to enhance

component separations.

• A reboiler to provide the necessary vaporization for the distillation process.

• A condenser to cool and condense the vapour leaving the top of the column.

• A reflux drum to hold the condensed vapour from the top of the column so

that liquid (reflux) can be recycled back to the column.

Figure 1

Types of Distillation Column
1. Staged columns in distillation
Distillation may be carried out in staged or plate columns in which each plate
provides intimate contact between vapor and liquid in continuous countercurrent
flow. Each plate constitutes a single stage where there is simultaneous partial
condensation of vapor and partial vaporization of liquid. (Figure 2)

Figure 2

 A plate column is a vertical column which consist a number of plates. In this

column, liquid enters from the top, flows over every plate and from plate to
plate via down comers.

Various plates used for phase contacting are:
Bubble cap disperses the gas phase into liquid as fine bubbles; it prevents liquid
drainage through the gas passage at low gas rates. (Figure 3)

Figure 3

 bubble caps columns can be operated with a wide range of vapour and flow
 Bubble cap plates are now rarely used for installation because of
(1) their relatively high cost.
(2) High pressure drop.


Very common plates in use in recent year are the perforated plates because of their
simplicity and of low cost. (Figure 4)

Figure 4

 A sieve plate is perforated plate that employs perforation for dispersing a gas
into a liquid on the plate.
 It is metal sheet having hundreds of round perforations init of the ranging
between 3 to 12mm.
 The total area of holes range from 5 to 15% of the plate area.


 It is the recent development in perforated plates. A valve plate is nothing but a
perforated metal sheet wherein the perforations are covered with lift able caps.
(Figure 5)

Figure 5

 The valves are metal discs up to about 38 mm diameter and are held in the
plate by means of legs which restrict the upward motion of the caps.
 The valve provides variable orifices for gas flow.

2. Packed columns in distillation

Distilling columns dumped with packing material is an alternative arrangement to
plate columns. The packing material provides high interfacial area for the
exchange of the components between the vapor and liquid phases. A true
countercurrent flow of vapor and returning liquid (reflux) occurs in packed
columns, in contrast to the stage-to-stage flow in plate columns.

Packed columns are used for smaller diameter columns since it is expensive to
build a staged column that will operate properly in small diameters. Packed towers
have the advantage of a smaller pressure drop and are, therefore, useful in vacuum
fractionation. Another advantage of packed columns is that they can be used to
process corrosive materials. (Figure 6 – Random kinds of Packing)

Figure 6

 A packed column is a pressure vessel that has a packed

section. The column can be filled with random dumped
packing or structured packing sections, which are arranged or

 In the column, liquids tend to wet the surface of the packing

and the vapors pass across this wetted surface, where mass
transfer takes place.

 Packing material can be used instead of trays to improve

separation in distillation columns.

 Differently shaped packing materials have different surface

areas and void space between the packing. Both of these
factors affect packing performance.

Packing Objective

Objectives for maximizing efficiency

 To spread surface area uniformly.

 To promote uniform distribution of vapour & liquid throughout

the bed

 To maximize the void space per unit column volume.

 To minimize friction (good Aerodynamic characteristics).

 To ensure uniform resistance to vapour & liquid flow
throughout the bed.

Some kinds of Packing used for phase contacting:

2.1 Pall Rings

 Primarily made of 304SS and 316L SS metal alloys for quick

replacement in kind from stock materials.

 Carbon Steel and specialty alloys, such as Monel 400 and

Hastelloy C276, made are used for specific applications.
(Figure 7)

 Pall Rings are available in various sizes such as (mm) 16, 25,
38, and 50.

Figure 7

2.2 Saddle Rings

 In terms of performance, i.e., low-pressure drop and high


 Large effective interfacial area,

 High mechanical strength.

 And lower cost due to less metal than previous generations of

random packing.

 Available in various sizes, which give different combinations of

efficiency and pressure drop. (Figure 8)

Figure 8

(Random Packing)

 Good capacity and low pressure drop.

 Higher liquid hold-up and residence time.

 Versatile standard packing. Figure 9

Figure 9

Criteria of Choosing Sieve or Packed


Characteristics of Tray Columns:

 Predictable hydraulic and mass transfer behavior

 Moderate to high pressure drop per tray

 Can be scaled to large diameters

 Low cost

 Suitable for fouling service

 Feed point flexibility is easy

Characteristics of Packed Columns:

 Low pressure drop / smaller diameter

 Random packing scale-up for HETP is difficult;

structured packing scale-up is predictable

 HETP prediction less well developed than for trays

 Low to moderate cost for random packing; high cost

for structured packing

 Not suitable for fouling service

 Feed point flexibility is difficult