A Comprehensive Real-World Distillation Experiment


  • Christos G. Kazameas Lehigh University • Bethlehem, PA 18015
  • Kaitlin N. Keller Lehigh University • Bethlehem, PA 18015
  • William L. Luyben Lehigh University • Bethlehem, PA 18015


Most undergraduate mass-transfer and separation courses cover the design of distillation columns, and many undergraduate laboratories have distillation experiments. In many cases, the treatment is restricted to simple column configurations and simplifying assumptions are made so as to convey only the basic concepts.

In industry, the analysis of a real operating distillation column is a very important issue in terms of improving performance (maximizing capacity, minimizing energy consumption, etc.). Few of the simplifying assumptions apply, and a rigorous analysis is required to achieve accurate results.

This paper discusses a distillation experiment that brings out many important practical aspects of using operating data from a typically complex distillation process to assess performance. The complexities include an economizer (feed preheated by overhead vapor), non-optimum feed tray location, inefficient trays, subcooled reflux and subcooled feed. Experimental results are compared to the predictions of computer simulations. Both total reflux operation and normal operation with feed and product streams are explored. One of the most important concepts derived from the experiment is how to startup the process.

Author Biographies

Christos G. Kazameas, Lehigh University • Bethlehem, PA 18015

Christos Kazameas studied chemical engineering at Lehigh University. A New Jersey native, he now resides in Lewisburg, WV.  Christos is employed as a materials engineer for UTC Aerospace Systems where his primarily focus is on elastomer compounding and development of aircraft de-icing systems.

Kaitlin N. Keller, Lehigh University • Bethlehem, PA 18015

Kaitlin Keller graduated from Lehigh University in May 2014 with a B.S. in chemical engineering and minor in Spanish with high honors. She works at Merck and Co. doing process development work on vaccines and biologics. Kaitlin is also a part of AIChE at the national level and on the board of the local Delaware Valley Section.

William L. Luyben, Lehigh University • Bethlehem, PA 18015

William L. Luyben has taught at Lehigh for 47 years in the areas of process design and process control. He is the author of 14 books and more than 280 papers.