Distillation Equipment

Distillation is a proven and cost-effective chemical separation method. It forms a vital part of various industrial operations and processes. At S-Cube, we serve the diverse distillation needs of various industries with our customized distillation equipment solutions. Our scope of solutions covers pharmaceuticals, mining, food processing, renewable fuels, chemical manufacturing,agriculture, and many others. Our proven solutions have helpe our clients achieve the distillation value they expect from our bespoke distillation equipment solutions.

What is Distillation?

Distillation refers to the separation that involves heat and mass transfer. It is one of the most effective and economically viable separation processes that suit various applications. Fundamentally, distillation involves separating components in a solution based on their relative volatility. Liquid and vapor interact in a counterflow arrangement within a vertical column to achieve distillation.

The compounds that the distillation process separates are characterized by their volatility, which is related to the pressure of chemical vapor. Different chemicals have different boiling temperatures at varying pressures.


For example, water boils at 212 °F at atmospheric pressure or 14.7 psia. But at 1.94 psia, its boiling point is 125 °F. On the other hand, ethanol has a vapor pressure of 32.5 psia at 212 °F. However, at 4.55 psia it is 125 °F. Ethanol tends to be more volatile than water, as it has a higher vapor pressure than water.

Relative volatility and activity coefficients are key while designing a distillation process Relative volatility is a unit that compares the vapor pressures of the components in a particular system. On the other hand, the activity coefficient is used to calculate the extent of deviation from the expected or ideal behavior.

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What is the Single and Multiple Stage Separation Process?

Single-stage separation refers to evaporation or particular Flash Distillation, although the term isn’t used as commonly. It involves one volatile component being removed from a solution via heating and then boiling the solution. Compounds with higher volatility are vaporized and removed from the process.

Multiple stages, as the name suggests, involve various stages of evaporation during the separation process. In this type of separation, the process is restricted by the sequential process design. Distillation leverages the same multi-stage principle in countercurrent stages. It helps result in a more efficient process and enables reducing system waste.

Procedures of Distillation Equipment Design

Designing distillation is an otherwise complicated task, simplified via various simulations, models, and designs. These factors are carefully chosen by engineers to help optimize the distillation efficiency. Let’s look at the process of a distillation design.

  • Assess the vapor-liquid equilibrium data
  • Determine and calculate the necessary equilibrium stages
  • Determine tray hydraulics
  • Choose the right tray or packing efficiencies

Engineers can use hand calculation procedures when they have rough system cost analysis, general assessment of the operating variables, separations with coarse purity needs, and designs for ideal and near-to-ideal systems.

On the other hand, a rigorous design approach is used in circumstances including,

  • Designing a system with a high extent of deviation from the ideal behavior or that does not have sufficient VLE data
  • Multicomponent distillation with a tight array of component boiling points
  • Very precise cost estimate needs
  • High level of product purity requirements

Graphical Method for Continuous Distillation

The McCabe-Thiele Diagram is about a century-old diagram that assesses the separation of components in a binary system. It is an x-y diagram that simplifies certain variables to facilitate a rapid and high-level assessment of a simple distillation based on the set VLE data. However, it must be noted that this method is confined to analyzing two variables.

Modern Software-Based Solutions

When it comes to designing a highly sophisticated system, wherein three or more components are involved, engineers use computer-based simulation software. The software application helps designers choose the right VLE model for the mixture and derive accurate predictions, along with distillation-stage calculations. Designing highly complex systems may also need pilot testing to help validate the final design.

When it comes to designing a highly sophisticated system, wherein three or more components are involved, engineers use computer-based simulation software. The software application helps designers choose the right VLE model for the mixture and derive accurate predictions, along with distillation-stage calculations. Designing highly complex systems may also need pilot testing to help validate the final design.

Distillation Equipment – Choosing Design and Operating Conditions

After establishing the basic system design, engineers should analyze the critical operating parameters of equipment that includes the following.

Column Pressure

Usually, reducing a column’s operating pressure enables separation by removing the relative volatility. But engineers must also consider the reboiler and condenser temperatures while reducing column pressure.

Pressure Drop

While designing, engineers usually consider the top and bottom pressure to be the same. But a vapor flow isn’t possible unless there’s a pressure gradient. Engineers must evaluate VLE changes across every equilibrium stage.

The software can help resolve this concern, as rigorous modeling is programmed to deliver accuracy and evaluate the pressure gradient in the column design.

In a vacuum column, the pressure drop could be a significant fraction of the absolute pressure. In situations like these, there could be substantial differences in relative volatility from the condenser to the reboiler.


Distillation Equipment System Components

Some equipment used in distillation equipment includes the following.

  • Scrubber systems
  • Packed columns
  • Trayed columns
  • Condensers
  • Reboilers

Trayed Columns

Trayed columns mainly find applications in services that process a liquid feed with solids present or in services with the propensity to foam while processing.

Trays are available in various flow pattern varieties. Some commonly used tray designs include bubble cap trays and valve trays. Every stage of the trayed column operates similarly. Every tray is designed to reach the actual equilibrium stage. Besides, all mass transfers happen within the frothy mixture on the tray. A few common elements involved in a trayed design include the following.

  • Variable vapor or liquid loads
  • Low liquid rates with several (about 20-30) stages
  • High liquid residence times
  • Cleaning shouldn’t require a herculean effort
  • Large (>30 in.) diameter column
  • Ability to endure high pressure or high levels of thermal or mechanical stress

Packed Columns

Packed columns contain loose, random structured sections or packing materials positioned together by a support plate and watered by a liquid distribution header. Packing is designed to broaden the area of contact between the vapor and the liquid phases as they travel counter currently via the packing bed. A few conditions to consider while designing a packed column include the following.

  • Tiny (<24 in.) diameter column
  • Designs that require exclusive materials
  • Vacuum distillation applications with lower-pressure drops

Energy Utilization

Some measures to save energy include the following.

  • Cascading columns that enable the condensation of vapor from one in the reboiler to the next.
  • Using mechanical vapor recompression (MVR)
  • Producing low-pressure steam in condensers to enable reuse
  • Operating at optimal pressure to reduce refrigeration levels in low-temperature separations
  • Implementing recuperative heat exchangers
  • Recompressing overhead vapor to enable use as a reboiler heat source
  • Using additional unit operations to add heat

Liquid Feed Inlet Design

Trayed and packed columns enable liquid and vapor contact. A thoughtfully and meticulously liquid feed system enables uniform distribution at the right velocity. Generally speaking, a liquid feed shouldn’t surpass 3 ft/s. In a trayed column with multiple phases, an additional structure can help break the momentum and provide enough space to enable a uniform distribution profile and adequate space to expand.

Scrubber Systems

A wet industrial scrubber is a commonly used industrial scrubber type. In wet scrubbers, water or any other liquid flows countercurrent to a contaminated gas stream in a packed column. The contaminant is absorbed by the water and purged at the column’s base.

Scrubbers prove beneficial in various ways. They provide gas absorption and dust gathering in a single unit, handle flammable and explosive dust with minimal risk, ensure hot gas cooling, and neutralize corrosive gasses and dust.

Integrated Distillation Equipment Systems

Process integration involves capturing latent heat and using it elsewhere in the distillation process. It proves cost-effective from the energy viewpoint. But implementing such a system could be challenging for a more complicated system than a single distillation column. Some technologies used to optimize efficiency and cost-effectiveness includes mechanical vapor recompression (MVR) and multi-effect evaporation.

As mentioned earlier, at S-Cube, we manufacture a range of customized distillation equipment to serve varying needs. Write to us at swapnil@s3dist.in to discuss your distillation equipment needs in detail. We will be glad to serve you!