Distillation is a commonly used technique for separating mixtures. The process is most widely used in the separation of liquids where heat is applied to force different components, with varying boiling points, into a gas state. The gas is then cooled back into a liquid and collected. Distillation is a common procedure in both professional laboratories, schools and colleges. Selecting the correct laboratory glassware for distillation will not only help the process to run smoothly but also provide a higher level of purity in the end product.
Choosing the Right Glass
When you think of distillation equipment, it’s often copper and stainless steel apparatus that comes to mind. These materials are generally used for large scale, industrial distillation purposes such as at breweries or other alcoholic beverages.
In a laboratory setting distillation equipment is generally made from glass, and it’s important to select the right type as not all glass will perform in the same way.
There are two main types of glass used for distillation;
Borosilicate – The majority of high-quality laboratory glassware will be made from Borosilicate glass. It is extremely durable and can be used for experiments requiring high temperatures thanks to its thermal stability. It also has a high degree of chemical resistance.
Flint Glass – A more basic type of glass that is suitable for day to day common applications. It has lower chemical resistance and thermal stability than Borosilicate Glass.
Picking the Right Equipment
The equipment you need will be determined by the type of distillation you are carrying out. For the majority of basic experiments, standard glassware should be more than adequate. Most schools and colleges will have a good range of simple laboratory glassware for distillation that should be able to handle even the most enthusiastic students experiments!
If you are dealing with large volumes of fluid or very high temperatures, then metal equipment such as copper or stainless steel may be a more suitable option.
Copper is widely used for distilling spirits as it gives the end product a better taste. The copper reacts with the sulfurs created by the fermenting yeast. By doing so, it removes the bitter sulfur taste producing a smoother tasting spirit.
Stainless steel distillation equipment is cheaper to produce than copper and also has the advantages of being easier to clean and more durable. It is used in the production of Essential Oils, Distilled waters and high alcohol content spirits.
Purchasing Distillation Equipment
When selecting laboratory glassware for distillation, you can choose to purchase single elements or complete sets. If you’re just starting out with the distillation process, then a full set will provide you with everything you need. Should you decide to develop your distillation process at a later date, additional elements can be purchased to supplement your existing equipment.
Although robust, laboratory glassware, can break or become damaged, especially after significant amounts of use. Depending on the item, it can often be more cost-effective to have the piece repaired by a scientific glass blower rather than buying a new one. Repairing, rather than replacing, is not only cheaper but is also better for the environment as less new pieces of equipment need to be produced.