Separation processes for high purity ethanol production
Ngema, Peterson Thokozani
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Globally there is renewed interest in the production of alternate fuels in the form of bioethanol and biodiesel. This is mainly due to the realization that crude oil stocks are limited hence the swing towards more renewable sources of energy. Bioethanol and biodiesel have received increasing attention as excellent alternative fuels and have virtually limitless potential for growth. One of the key processing challenges in the manufacturing of biofuels is the production of high purity products. As bioethanol is the part of biofuels, the main challenge facing bioethanol production is the separation of high purity ethanol. The separation of ethanol from water is difficult because of the existence of an azeotrope in the mixture. However, the separation of the ethanol/water azeotropic system could be achieved by the addition of a suitable solvent, which influences the activity coefficient, relative volatility, flux and the separation factor or by physical separation based on molecular size. In this study, two methods of high purity ethanol separation are investigated: extractive distillation and pervaporation. The objective of this project was to optimize and compare the performance of pervaporation and extraction distillation in order to produce high purity ethanol. The scopes of the investigation include: Study of effect of various parameters (i) operating pressure, (ii) operating temperature, and (iii) feed composition on the separation of ethanol-water system using pervaporation. Study the effect of using salt as a separating agent and the operating pressure in the extractive distillation process. The pervaporation unit using a composite flat sheet membrane (hydrophilic membrane) produced a high purity ethanol, and also achieved an increase in water flux with increasing pressure and feed temperature. The pervaporation unit facilitated separation beyond the ethanol – water system azeotropic point. It is concluded that varying the feed temperature and the operating pressure, the performance of the pervaporation membrane can be optimised. v The extractive distillation study using salt as an extractive agent was performed using the low pressure vapour-liquid equilibrium (LPVLE) still, which was developed by (Raal and Mühlbauer, 1998) and later modified by (Joseph et al. 2001). The VLE study indicated an increase in relative volatility with increase in salt concentration and increase in pressure operating pressure. Salt concentration at 0.2 g/ml and 0.3 g/ml showed complete elimination of the azeotrope in ethanol-water system. The experimental VLE data were regressed using the combined method and Gibbs excess energy models, particular Wilson and NRTL. Both models have shown the best fit for the ethanol/water system with average absolute deviation (AAD) below 0.005. The VLE data were subjected to consistency test and according to the Point test, were of high consistency with average absolute deviations between experimental and calculated vapour composition below 0.005. Both extractive distillation using salt as an extractive agent and pervaporation are potential technologies that could be utilized for the production of high purity ethanol in boiethanol-production.