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Following is a very common chain of events that contributes to wasted energy in distillation:

  • Human nature leads many to increase reflux when an overhead specification isn't met (when a decrease in reboil might be a more energy-efficient move).
  • The increased reflux can cause lights to drift up in the bottom of the tower, which may cause many to increase reboil (when a decrease in reflux might be the more energy-efficient move), which can cause heavies in the overhead to drift up again.
  • Result: One increases reflux, another increases reboil…The cycle continues until the tower gets "wound up."
  • The same chain of events can also start at the bottom of the tower when lights in the base trend higher and reboil is added rather than cutting reflux.
  • Other ways that this suboptimum energy point is reached includes not making a tower adjustment when feed flow or composition shifts, or if ambient temperatures swing night to day or season-to-season.


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