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Abstract

High-purity distillation columns are typically difficult to control because of their severely nonlinear behavior reflected by their sharp composition and temperature profiles. The dynamic behavior of such a column, as characterized by the movement of its sharp profile, was elucidated by a nonlinear wave theory established previously. With binary alcohol mixtures, this study provides an experimental observation of such wave-propagation dynamics of a 40-tray stripping column and a 50-tray fractionation column in response to step disturbances of feed composition, feed flow rate, and reboiler heat supply. Our experimental results have verified that the sharp profile in a high-purity column moves as a constant-pattern wave and that the nonlinear wave theory predicts its velocity satisfactorily with very simple mathematics. Our results also demonstrate the asymmetric dynamics of the transitions between two steady states.