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A new concept of an electrostatic spray column for liquid-liquid extraction was investigated. An important problem for separation processes is the presence of azeotropic or close-boiling mixtures in their production, for example heptane with ethanol, since the separation is impossible by ordinary distillation. The use of ionic liquids (IL) as a dispersed solvent specially engineered for any specific organic mixture in terms of selectivity is a key factor to successful separation. As IL present particularly attractive combination of favorable characteristics for the separation of heptane and ethanol, in this work we use 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium methyl sulfate [BMIM][MeSO4]. Because of high viscosity and relatively high cost of IL a new technique was introduced, consisting in the electrostatically spray generation to enhance the mass transport between the phases. In order to optimally design the geometry of the contactor a series of numerical simulation was performed. Especially multi-nozzle variants for better exploitation of contactor volume were investigated. Experiments showed excellent possibility of control of the dispersion characteristics by applied voltage and thus control of the rate of extraction. The preliminary simulations based on our mathematical model for a three nozzle variant exhibited visual agreement with the theory of electrostatics.
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