Also found in: Dictionary.
distillation column[‚dis·tə′lā·shən ‚käl·əm]
An apparatus used widely for countercurrent contacting of vapor and liquid to effect separations by distillation or absorption. In general, the apparatus consists of a cylindrical vessel with internals designed to obtain multiple contacting of ascending vapor and descending liquid, together with means for introducing or generating liquid at the top and vapor at the bottom.
In a column that can be applied to distillation (see illustration), a vapor condenser is used to produce liquid (reflux) which is returned to the top, and a liquid heater (reboiler) is used to generate vapor for introduction at the bottom. In a simple absorber, the absorption oil is the top liquid and the feed gas is the bottom vapor. In all cases, changes in composition produce heat effects and volume changes, so that there is a temperature gradient and a variation in vapor, and liquid flows from top to bottom of the column. These changes affect the internal flow rates from point to point throughout the column and must be considered in its design.
Distillation columns used in industrial plants range in diameter from a few inches to 40 ft (12 m) and in height from 10 to 200 ft (3 to 60 m). They operate at pressures as low as a few millimeters of mercury and as high as 3000 lb/in.2 (2 megapascals) at temperatures from -300 to 700°F (-180 to 370°C). They are made of steel and other metals, of ceramics and glass, and even of such materials as bonded carbon and plastics.
A variety of internal devices have been used to obtain more efficient contacting of vapor and liquid. The most widely used devices are the bubble-cap plate, the perforated or sieve plate, and the packed column.
The bubble-cap plate is a horizontal deck with a large number of chimneys over which circular or rectangular caps are mounted to channel and distribute the vapor through the liquid. Liquid flows by gravity downward from plate to plate through separate passages known as downcomers.
The perforated or sieve plate is a horizontal deck with a multiplicity of round holes or rectangular slots for distribution of vapor through the liquid. The sieve plate can be designed with downcomers similar to those used for bubble-cap trays, or it can be made without downcomers so that both liquid and vapor flow through the perforations in the deck.
The packed column is a bed or succession of beds made up of small solid shapes over which liquid and vapor flow in tortuous countercurrent paths. Expanded metal or woven mats are also used as packing. The packed column is used without downcomers, but in larger sizes usually has horizontal redistribution decks to collect and redistribute the liquid over the bed at successive intervals of height. The packed column is widely used in laboratories. It is often used in small industrial plants, especially where corrosion is severe and ceramic or glass materials must be chosen. See Gas absorption operations