A separation process is a method that converts a mixture or solution of chemical substances into two or more distinct product mixtures. At least one of results of the separation is enriched in one or more of the source mixture's constituents. In some cases, a separation may fully divide the mixture into pure constituents. Separations exploit differences in chemical properties or physical properties (such as size, shape, mass, density, or chemical affinity) between the constituents of a mixture.
Processes are often classified according to the particular differences they use to achieve separation. If no single difference can be used to accomplish a desired separation, multiple operations can often be combined to achieve the desired end.
With a few exceptions, elements or compounds exist in nature in an impure state. Often these raw materials must go through a separation before they can be put to productive use, making separation techniques essential for the modern industrial economy. In some cases, these separations require total purification, as in the electrolysis refining of bauxite ore for aluminum metal, but a good example of an incomplete separation technique is oil refining. Crude oil occurs naturally as a mixture of various hydrocarbons and impurities. The refining process splits this mixture into other, more valuable mixtures such as natural gas, gasoline and chemical feedstocks, none of which are pure substances, but each of which must be separated from the raw crude. In both of these cases, a series of separations is necessary to obtain the desired end products. In the case of oil refining, crude is subjected to a long series of individual distillation steps, each of which produces a different product or intermediate.
Separators are used to divide liquids. Vertically supported centrifuges are built with flying bearings. A separator is a continues sedimentation centrifuge. Both exit streams are continuously discharged, using a pump (under pressure) or pressure free. The solid material can be discharged discontinuously (chamber drum, solid walled disc drum), pseudo continuously (self-cleaning disc drum) or continuously (nozzle drum). The drum is the centerpiece of the separator, in which the separation process takes place. There are two types of drums: the chamber drum (known as chamber separators) and the disc drum (known as disc separators). The power transmission on the spindle and thereby on the drum can take place by using one of the three drive motors: helical gears, a belt drive or direct drive, via a special motor. The sealing of the separators is differentiated into four types: open, semi-closed, hydro-hermetic (sealing of the product space) or fully hermetic (absolute airtight).
The purpose of a separation may be analytical, can be used as a lie components in the original mixture without any attempt to save the fractions, or may be preparative, i.e. to "prepare" fractions or samples of the components that can be saved. The separation can be done on a small scale, effectively a laboratory scale for analytical or preparative purposes, or on a large scale, effectively an industrial scale for preparative purposes, or on some intermediate scale.