Alcohol distillation is one of the most widespread human methods used to create spirits, beers and wine. Distillation mixes raw materials with water before heating it to its boiling point in order to produce ethanol vapor which condenses into three liquid components known as heads, hearts and tails which can then be collected and sold – this process dates back thousands of years as Queen Cleopatra used it herself in creating perfumes and balms using cedar, cypress, ginger and myrrh.
Under vacuum (at pressures lower than 1/10 atmospheric), distillation eliminates azeotrope, permitting full separation to 100 percent alcohol. However, due to differences in vaporizability between water and alcohol requiring an extremely high reflux ratio of more than 20 in order to achieve this result – raising this ratio increases product purity but requires more energy consumption.
Once neutral spirit, most often produced through heart cutting, has reached room temperature, distillers examine its alcohol content and purity. If too low, they may redouble distillation efforts until their desired alcohol percentage has been achieved; or add water to dilute and bring down to an acceptable percentage.
As anyone interested in designing a small fuel alcohol plant should know, understanding its basic principles and how it operates is paramount to its success. Furthermore, selecting and evaluating equipment, systems and controls required for such projects requires great care – this publication covers these topics along with safety precautions as well as general selection criteria to assist when making informed decisions about alternatives.