What Is Simple Distillation Used for?

Written by john brennan
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What Is Simple Distillation Used for?
Distillation techniques have a variety of applications in research and industry. (petroleum distilation image by Heng kong Chen from Fotolia.com)

Distillation is a process that separates components of a mixture based on differences in their boiling points and volatility (a substance's readiness to evaporate). Some mixtures can be separated by simple distillation, while others require fractional distillation or other techniques.


In simple distillation, the mixture is heated until its temperature reaches the boiling point of the most volatile substance in the mixture. This substance will boil off and can be condensed to return it to liquid form. This process can be repeated until each component of the mixture has been separated from the others.


Simple distillation is only used for mixtures where the difference in boiling point between the compounds in the mixture is 50 degrees Celsius or more. If the difference in boiling points is less than 50, the distillate will be too impure for use, because too much of the other compounds in the distillate will have evaporated together with the compound you want to separate. Mixtures like ethanol and water must be separated by another technique called fractional distillation.


Simple distillation is frequently used in the lab, especially during organic chemistry, where many of the compounds the chemist needs to separate exhibit a wide enough difference in boiling points that simple distillation becomes feasible. Simple distillation is also used in the petrochemicals industry to separate the components of crude oil and in the distillation of seawater.

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