Fractional distillation is a method used in separating volatile (having a tendency to vaporise) liquids. Fractional distillation has been used traditionally in the separation of mixtures and purification of solvents, chemicals and other naturally occurring material. Fractional distillation has found widespread use in oil refineries, where it is used in separating constituents of oil into its basic components, which can then be sold as petroleum, crude oil, spirit and other industrial products.
Fractional distillation systems have up to 50 plates at atmospheric pressure. For higher efficiency, distillation columns can be stacked for maximum efficiency. The more the stacking, the higher the efficiency. This is applied mostly in oil refineries where efficiency is important in ensuring maximum yields while reducing the operational costs.
Easy to Use
Fractional distillation is easy to use. Little or no change is made on the distiller. You are only required to maintain operating conditions which are relatively easy to follow. Modern fractional distillation columns have been equipped with microprocessors that fully control the distillation process from beginning to end. Automization minimises the time needed to operate the equipment. Heating, collection of distillate and shutting down of the distillate when distillation is done is automatic.
Compared to simple distillation and other types of distillation, fractional distillation is relatively expensive -- especially the initial cost of buying the fractionating column. The fractionating column used in oil refineries usually has damage to it due to high heat conditions. Replacement of components is also quiet expensive.
Due to the nature of the experiment, where high temperature and high pressure are involved, there is always a possibility of an explosion. This can be fatal if the necessary precautions have not been put in place.