Fractional distillation is the process of separating a mixture into its different components. It’s similar to simple distillation in that it uses heat (evaporation) and cooling (condensation) to separate substances; the difference is that simple distillation does this process once, while fractional distillation repeats the process several times within the same system. Simple distillation is ideal for a mixture whose components have vastly different boiling points, while fractional distillation is ideal for a mixture whose components have very close boiling points (less than 40 degrees Celsius).
Fractional distillation is advantageous since it’s used in a wide range of industrial process. However, it also brings about several disadvantages. Read on to know about these benefits and drawbacks.
List of Advantages of Fractional Distillation
1. It’s easy to implement.
One of the biggest benefits of fractional distillation is that it’s easy to use. As long as you set up a fully functional and well-designed system, you can leave it as is to do its job. You only need to check the system on a regular basis to ensure it’s functioning properly, find out if it needs repairs, and fix whatever needs fixing. Modern fractional distillation setups are automated using microprocessors, which make the process even easier.
2. It’s highly effective and efficient.
Fractional distillation has been proven by countless experiments and actual processes to be effective. In fact, it’s widely used in many industrial settings to create the products that modern society needs. Fractional distillation is also highly efficient, especially for systems that use stacked distillation columns, which produce more output at lower costs.
3. It helps produce much-needed fuel.
Fractional distillation is used to refine crude oil and produce diesel, kerosene, gasoline, naphtha (used in creating chemicals), and bitumen (used for roofs and roads). With this in mind, it’s easy to conclude that fractional distillation has greatly contributed to the advancement and modernization of human life.
List of Disadvantages of Fractional Distillation
1. It can be expensive.
On an industrial level, fractional distillation is expensive because it requires large structures, heavy-duty materials, and specialized machinery. It also requires staff to be fully trained in the operation of systems to ensure they know how to use the distillation equipment and won’t make mistakes. So, before an oil refinery or industrial plant can be put up, the owners must first raise a substantial amount of money.
2. It comes with operational hazards.
Just like any process that uses heat, fractional distillation presents a wide range of risks for the people who are involved in it. One of the biggest hazards is explosion, which can take place if the system is not equipped with the appropriate precautions.
3. It can contribute to environmental pollution.
Fractional distillation in itself is not harmful to the environment; its ecological damage depends on the types of mixtures that are distilled. Refining crude oil, for example, can lead to the release of large amounts of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. It can also contribute to the pollution of rivers, streams, and other bodies of water, which can happen when refineries improperly dump waste water.
Fractional distillation has several advantages and disadvantages, and governments and industrial companies must learn how to find a balance between these pros and cons.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.