When the substance with the lowest boiling point has been removed, the temperature can be raised and the distillation process repeated with the substance having the next lowest boiling point. The process of obtaining portions (or fractions) in this way is one type of fractional distillation. A more efficient method of fractional distillation involves placing a vertical tube called a fractionating column between the flask and the condenser. The column is filled with many objects on which the vapor can repeatedly condense and reevaporate as it moves toward the top, effectively distilling the vapor many times. The less volatile substances in the vapor tend to run back down the column after they condense, concentrating themselves near the bottom. The more volatile ones tend to reevaporate and keep moving upward, concentrating themselves near the top. Because of this the column can be tapped at various levels to draw off different fractions. Fractional distillation is commonly used in refining petroleum, some of the fractions thus obtained being gasoline, benzene, kerosene, fuel oils, lubricating oils, and paraffin.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.