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When we say steam distillation, we are referring to a procedure in which water is heated to a very high temperature and the vapor is condensed into steam. Steam distillation is actually a separation procedure which involves condensing water with other non-volatile and volatile components. The term steam is used here because the vapor is made to pass through steam tubes to condense into steam, which is then released through a cooling plant. In older processes, steam was used instead of water, but today, it is usually treated with water. In this article, we will explain the concepts behind steam distillation and how it is carried out.
To understand steam distillation better, you must know about its main concepts, namely, the boiling point, the maturation level, and the molecular structure of the compounds being distilled. The boiling point refers to the point at which the substance reaches the maximum concentration of vaporized substances in liquid when heat is applied. The maturation level is the exact amount of pressure that is needed to force vaporized substances to the boiling point at the greatest possible concentration.
The molecular structure of the organic compound is essential to understanding steam distillation. Here, a substance is referred to as a "solvent" if it has an overall molecular structure that is soluble. Solvents are often called volatile or nonvolatile. The solvents that can be separated from a substance by steam distillation include alcohol, acetone, ethanol, methanol, naphthalene, and spirit. Other substances such as steroids, iodine, and certain pesticides also have volatile components but are not solvents.
In steam distillation, both the concentration of vapor pressure and the concentration of the boiling point of the substance are considered. When both properties are present, then the mixture is considered a "mixture". This means that there is more than one substance in the solution. Some examples of these mixtures are oils, ether, phenols, and oxides of sulfur. Solvents are usually found within volatile materials, such as oils and emulsions, where they change the nature of the liquid.
Steam distillation separates the individual constituents of a plant material based on specific gravity readings of a vessel. The vessel used in this process is known as the distiller. The boiling temperature of the mixture is brought to the boiling point of the pure water or other medium. The steam or vapor pressure separates the plant materials into their individual components. It is important to note that some solvents can actually change the chemical makeup of a liquid, thus the need to know what chemicals will be dissolved before the process is begun.
The steam distillation process also creates heat. It heats the heated starting material, which is typically a byproduct of crude oil extraction, to an elevated temperature. The steam is composed of millions of molecules of a non-volatile material such as paraffin wax, while the heated water is composed mainly of a paraffin compound known as monomer. In this case, both elements are combined to create a liquid which will later undergo the separation step. As the heated steam evaporates, it leaves a residue which will settle at the bottom of the container, while the water continues to boil at the top of the container.