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What Is Distillation?

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This is an example of a simple setup for distillation.

This is an example of a simple setup for distillation.

Pearson Scott Foresman, public domain
Question: What Is Distillation?
Answer: Distillation is a widely used method for separating mixtures based on differences in the conditions required to change the phase of components of the mixture. To separate a mixture of liquids, the liquid can be heated to force components, which have different boiling points, into the gas phase. The gas is then condensed back into liquid form and collected. Repeating the process on the collected liquid to improve the purity of the product is called double distillation. Although the term is most commonly applied to liquids, the reverse process can be used to separate gases by liquefying components using changes in temperature and/or pressure.

Distillation is used for many commercial processes, such as production of gasoline, distilled water, xylene, alcohol, paraffin, kerosene, and many other liquids. Types of distillation include simple distillation (described here), fractional distillation (different volatile 'fractions' are collected as they are produced), and destructive distillation (usually, a material is heated so that it decomposes into compounds for collection).

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