Various Types of Fractional Distillation Process used in Process Plants

What is Fractional Distillation?

Fractional Distillation or Distillation or Fractionation is the process of separation of components from a product or mixture (Crude Oil) by heating the mixture to a temperature at which several fractions of the compound will vaporize.  Normally when the mixture is heated, the component with the lowest boiling point will vaporize first and will separate out from the mixture. With further increase in temperature other components will start to vaporize and separate.

Fractional Distillation is the most widely used form of separation technology and finds uses in petroleum refineries, petrochemical, and chemical plants, natural gas processing and cryogenic air separation plants. It is one of the most important separation processes.

Fractionation Towers or Distillation Columns in Process Plants
Fractionation Towers or Distillation Columns in Process Plants

What are the alternatives to the fractional distillation process?

There are a few alternatives to distillation as mentioned below but require higher investment costs. This is the main reason that distillation remains the main choice in the hydrocarbon industry, especially in large-scale applications.

  • Liquid-Liquid Extraction or Solvent Extraction,
  • Hydrophilic Pervaporation
  • Multi-membrane Permeation Separation
  • Adsorption process.

Types of Distillation Processes

There are various types of distillation processes that are popularly used in various industries for separating different products. Those are

  • Fractional Distillation
  • Extractive Distillation
  • Reactive Distillation
  • Simple distillation.
  • Steam distillation.
  • Vacuum distillation.
  • Air-sensitive vacuum distillation.
  • Short path distillation.
  • Zone distillation
  • Azeotropic Distillation
  • Distillation under Reduced Pressure
  • Destructive Distillation
  • Industrial Distillation

When the physical properties (mainly boiling point) of the components in a mixture are very close to one another (Example: an azeotropic mixture), the separation method becomes difficult.

Out of the above types, Fractional, Extractive, Reactive and Industrial distillation are the most frequently used ones.

Fractional Distillation

Fractional Distillation is the separation of key components from the product mixture by the difference in their relative volatility or boiling points by heating the product.

Extractive Distillation

In this type of distillation, an external solvent is introduced to the system that increases the separation. The external solvent changes the relative volatility between two close components by extracting one of the components, which forms a ternary mixture with different properties. Once, the extracted component is separated, the solvent is recycled into the system.

Reactive Distillation

In this method, a catalyst bed is used and the targeted component reacts when it is in contact with the catalyst. This separates the targeted component from the rest of the components in the mixture. The column where similar distillation is performed is termed as a reactive distillation column.

Extractive and Reactive Distillation
Extractive and Reactive Distillation

Industrial distillation

Industrial distillation is performed inside a large, vertical, tall cylindrical column. These columns are popularly known as “fractionation towers” or “distillation columns” or “Distillation Towers” and can be found in most of the process plants. The diameter of such Columns can range from about 65 centimeters to 6 meters and heights can range from about 6 meters to 60 meters or more.

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Reference

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractional_distillation

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Anup Kumar Dey

I am a Mechanical Engineer turned into a Piping Engineer. Currently, I work in a reputed MNC as a Senior Piping Stress Engineer. I am very much passionate about blogging and always tried to do unique things. This website is my first venture into the world of blogging with the aim of connecting with other piping engineers around the world.

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