Reactive distillation is used with reversible, liquid phase
reactions. Suppose a reversible reaction had the following chemical
For many revesible reactions the equilibrium point lies far to the
left and little product is formed :
However, if one or more of the products are removed more of the
product will be formed because of Le Chatlier's Principle :
Removing one or more of the products is one of the principles behind reactive distillation. The reaction mixture is heated and the product(s) are boiled off. However, caution must be taken that the reactants won't boil off before the products.
For example, Reactive Distillation can be used in removing acetic acid from water. Acetic acid is the byproduct of several reactions and is very usefull in its own right. Derivatives of acetic acid are used in foods, pharmaceuticals, explosives, medicinals and solvents. It is also found in many homes in the form of vinegar. However, it is considered a polutant in waste water from a reaction and must be removed.