From Chemical Engineers' Portable Handbook

Binary Distillation; the McCabe-Thiele Method

In the case of a continuous distillation column (see Figure 5-8) a method used to determine the number of ideal stages is the McCabe-Thiele.

Figure 5-8: Schematic of continuous distillation column. Section above feed is enriching or rectifying; below feed is stripping section. (Reproduced with permission from reference 38. Copyright 1997 American Chemical Society.)

The stages in a distillation column can be of various configurations. Two systems are shown in Figure 5-9.

Figure 5-9: Bubble cap ( a and b) and sieve plate ( c). Adapted from 36, 37.

The enthalpy balance for the McCabe-Thiele in the rectifying section essentially reduces to the vapor streams entering and leaving a stage V in moles/time and ?, the enthalpy of vaporization.


For chemically similar materials,




This gives a condition known as constant molal overflow (i.e., all the V's in the rectifying section including V a are equal; the same holds true for all the L's including L a). The same condition holds for the stripping section (all vapor streams including V b are equal and all L streams are equal to each other).

A mass balance for the rectifying section gives




Likewise, the mass balance for the stripping section is




Equations 5-16 through 5-19 are straight lines because of constant molal overflow.

The junction of the rectifying and stripping mass balances is fixed by the feed...

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Topics of Interest

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Overview M. F. Doherty, Ph.D. Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of California Santa Barbara (Section Editor) Z. T. Fidkowski, Ph.D. Process Engineer, Air Products and Chemicals Inc.