New ethanol distillation technology tests show 75% energy savings

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 28, 2014

A new distillation technology is ready to be tested at pilot scale, according to Dick Burton, CEO of Distillation Technologies Inc. He and his brother Sam Burton, have spent seven years developing the technology trademarked Bubble Spray Distillation. The proof of concept has been achieved at bench scale, with the help of Kansas City-based Midwest Research Institute and Aerosol Research and Engineering, and a patent received on the ethanol distillation concept. A second patent is pending on using the method for water purification.

A Midwest Research Institute white paper describes the cost savings and purity level attained with the system, Burton said. The distillation system operates at 104 degrees Fahrenheit, producing 99.5 percent alcohol in one pass with an energy savings calculated at 75.6 percent better that standard distillation systems.

“We take the beer and infuse air into it and saturate it and spray it through some special nozzles into a vacuum chamber, the distillation column. We replace the stripper section with our equipment,” Burton explained. “When the fluid is sprayed into the column,   aerosol-sized droplets come out. Each of the droplets has a bubble inside. The bubble grows exponentially inside the vacuum chamber and explodes the droplet. It creates tens of thousands of very small droplets. Those nano droplets now have surface tension relieved on them and they readily vaporize at half the energy.” Burton added that the low-vacuum environment also relieves the azeotropic bond. “You can make pure ethanol at one pass, without molecular sieves,” he said. 

With the proof of concept established at bench scale, the brothers are looking for partners to test the concept at pilot scale. “On the ethanol side, 75 percent of Btu used for distillation is saved,” Burton said, which translates into a 24-cent-per-gallon savings. Experiments done on water purification indicate a 50 percent energy savings. “That will save additional money for ethanol plants by cleaning their water so they recycle more.” Burton said they expect the concept can be applied to drying distillers grains as well.

Distillation Technology Inc. and sister company, Perpetual Water LLC, are based in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, outside of Kansas City. Dick Burton’s background includes 35 years in construction and property management. An electrical engineer by training, co-inventor Sam Burton, vice president and chief technology officer for the two companies, has 40 years of experience in engineering and managing start-up organizations bringing new products to market.