In chemical engineering, a separation process is used to transform mixture of substances into two or more distinct products. The separated products could be different in the chemical properties or some physical property such as size, or crystal modification or other separation into different components.
Barring a few exceptions, almost every compound/element is found naturally in an impure state such as a mixture of two or more substances. Many times need to separate it into its individual components arises and separation applications in the field are very important. A good example is that of crude oil which is a mixture of various hydrocarbons and is valuable in this natural form. Demand is greater for the purified various hydrocarbons such as natural gases, gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, lubricating oils, asphalt,etc.
Separation processes can be termed as mass transfer processes. The classification can be based on means of separation, mechanical or chemical. The choice of separation depends on pros and cons of each. The mechanical separations are usually favored if possible due to the lower cost of the operations as compared to chemical separations but for the systems that cannot be separated by purely mechanical means (e.g. crude oil), only chemical separation is the remaining solution. The mixture could exist as a combination of any two or more states: solid-solid, solid-liquid, solid-gas, liquid-liquid, liquid-gas, gas-gas, solid-liquid-gas mixture, etc.
Depending on raw mixture, various processes can be employed to separate mixtures. Many times two or more of these processes have to be used in combination to obtain the desired separation and in addition to chemical processes, mechanical processes can also be applied where possible. In separation of crude oil, one upstream distillation operation will feed its two or more product streams into multiple downstream distillation operations to further separate the crude, and so on until the final products are purified.
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