Packing material can be used instead of trays to improve separation in distillation columns. Packing offers the advantage of a lower pressure drop across the column (when compared to plates or trays), which is beneficial while operating under vacuum.

Random column packing is the practice of packing a distillation column with randomly fitting filtration material in order to optimize surface area over which reactants can interact while minimizing the complexity of the construction of such columns. Random column packing is an alternative to structured column packing.

Packed columns are used for distillation, gas absorption and liquid-liquid extraction. The gas-liquid contact in a packed column is continuous, not stage-wise, as in a plate column. The liquid flows down in the column over a packing surface and the vapor (or the gas) moves counter-currently, up the column.

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