The Distillation of Solutions

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Figure a contains a photograph of a common laboratory distillation unit. Figure b provides a diagram labeling typical components of a laboratory distillation unit, including a stirrer/heat plate with heat and stirrer speed control, a heating bath of oil or sand, stirring means such as boiling chips, a still pot, a still head, a thermometer for boiling point temperature reading, a condenser with a cool water inlet and outlet, a still receiver with a vacuum or gas inlet, a receiving flask for holding distillate, and a cooling bath.
Figure 1. A typical laboratory distillation unit is shown in (a) a photograph and (b) a schematic diagram of the components. (credit a: modification of work by “Rifleman82”/Wikimedia commons; credit b: modification of work by “Slashme”/Wikimedia Commons)

The Distillation of Solutions (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

Solutions whose components have significantly different vapor pressures may be separated by a selective vaporization process known as distillation. Consider the simple case of a mixture of two volatile liquids, A and B, with A being the more volatile liquid. Raoult’s law can be used to show that the vapor above the solution is enriched in component A, that is, the mole fraction of A in the vapor is greater than the mole fraction of A in the liquid. By appropriately heating the mixture, component A may be vaporized, condensed, and collected—effectively separating it from component B.

Distillation is widely applied in both laboratory and industrial settings, being used to refine petroleum, to isolate fermentation products, and to purify water. A typical apparatus for laboratory-scale distillations is shown in Figure 1.

Oil refineries use large-scale fractional distillation to separate the components of crude oil. The crude oil is heated to high temperatures at the base of a tall fractionating column, vaporizing many of the components that rise within the column. As vaporized components reach adequately cool zones during their ascent, they condense and are collected. The collected liquids are simpler mixtures of hydrocarbons and other petroleum compounds that are of appropriate composition for various applications (e.g., diesel fuel, kerosene, gasoline), as depicted in Figure 2.

This figure contains a photo of a refinery, showing large columnar structures. A diagram of a fractional distillation column used in separating crude oil is also shown. Near the bottom of the column, an arrow pointing into the column shows a point of entry for heated crude oil. The column contains several layers at which different components are removed. At the very bottom, residue materials are removed as indicated by an arrow out of the column. At each successive level, different materials are removed proceeding from the bottom to the top of the column. The materials are fuel oil, followed by diesel oil, kerosene, naptha, gasoline, and refinery gas at the very top. To the right of the column diagram, a double sided arrow is shown that is blue at the top and gradually changes color to red moving downward. The blue top of the arrow is labeled, “small molecules: low boiling point, very volatile, flows easily, ignites easily.” The red bottom of the arrow is labeled, “large molecules: high boiling point, not very volatile, does not flow easily, does not ignite easily.”
Figure 2. Crude oil is a complex mixture that is separated by large-scale fractional distillation to isolate various simpler mixtures. Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

Source:

Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/books/chemistry-2e

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