Difference Between Absorption And Stripping

Separation processes are fundamental to numerous industrial applications, from chemical production to environmental management. Absorption and stripping, though similar in function, utilize distinct methods to separate components based on their physical and chemical properties. These processes are pivotal in industries such as petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and waste treatment.

Absorption involves the transfer of a substance from a gas phase into a liquid phase where it is dissolved. Conversely, stripping, also known as desorption, involves the transfer of a substance from a liquid phase to a gas phase. These methods are essential for purifying products, removing contaminants, or recovering valuable materials.

Both techniques rely on the principles of mass transfer, where molecules move from one phase to another driven by concentration gradients. This movement is influenced by factors such as temperature, pressure, and the properties of the substances involved, making the design and operation of absorption and stripping systems a complex but critical component of modern manufacturing.

Core Concepts

Definition of Absorption

Absorption is a separation process where a gas or vapor mixture has one or more of its components transferred to a liquid solvent. The component that transfers phases is referred to as the absorbate, and the liquid that absorbs it is called the absorbent. This technique is crucial in industries where removing impurities from a gas stream is necessary or where capturing specific gases for reuse or further processing is required.

Definition of Stripping

Stripping, often known as desorption, is essentially the reverse of absorption. In this process, a component is removed from a liquid into a gas phase. The primary aim is to purge unwanted materials from liquids, particularly in scenarios where pollutants need to be separated and discarded, or valuable components need to be reclaimed.

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Key Mechanisms

How Absorption Works

The mechanism of absorption involves the physical or chemical interaction between the gas phase and the liquid phase. Here’s how it typically works:

  1. Contact: The gas containing the absorbate is brought into contact with the absorbent liquid.
  2. Transfer: The absorbate diffuses from the gas phase, driven by a concentration gradient, into the liquid phase where it is less concentrated.
  3. Solution: The absorbate dissolves in the liquid, often reacting chemically, which can change its solubility and the equilibrium of the system.

How Stripping Works

Conversely, stripping works by reversing the concentration gradient, pushing the absorbed substance out of the liquid and back into a gas phase. The key steps include:

  1. Heating: Increasing the temperature of the liquid to reduce the solubility of the substance.
  2. Aeration: Introducing air or another gas to help carry the stripped substance away.
  3. Recovery: The vapor phase is then collected, and the stripped substance can be condensed or processed further.

Equipment Used

Absorption Equipment Types

Various types of equipment are utilized in industrial absorption processes, depending on the specific needs of the operation. Common types include:

  • Packed Towers: These contain layers of packing material that provide a large surface area for the gas and liquid to contact.
  • Plate Columns: These use trays instead of packing to separate the phases after each stage of contact.
  • Venturi Scrubbers: These force the gas through a constricted space where it contacts the liquid, often used for particulate removal.

Stripping Equipment Types

Stripping processes often use similar equipment to absorption but are configured to maximize the release of the substance from the liquid. These include:

  • Stripper Columns: These are typically packed or tray columns designed specifically for the efficient stripping of volatiles from the liquid.
  • Flash Drums: These allow for rapid vaporization and separation of the volatile components from the liquid.
  • Rotary Strippers: These utilize mechanical action to agitate the liquid, facilitating the stripping process.


Industrial Uses of Absorption

Absorption is widely used across various sectors. Key applications include:

  • Air Pollution Control: Removing toxic compounds from industrial exhaust gases.
  • Gas Purification: Separating specific gases from mixtures for chemical processing or medical use.
  • Solvent Recovery: Capturing organic solvents from process streams to prevent pollution and reduce costs.
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Industrial Uses of Stripping

Stripping also finds significant applications in many industries, such as:

  • Water Treatment: Removing contaminants like volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from wastewater.
  • Food Industry: Recovering flavors and fragrances during the processing of food products.
  • Chemical Synthesis: Regenerating used solvents and purifying reaction mixtures.

Comparative Analysis

Efficiency and Effectiveness

When comparing absorption and stripping, efficiency often hinges on the specific application and the substances involved. Absorption is extremely effective for capturing high concentrations of pollutants in gas streams, especially when the pollutants are soluble in the selected solvent. Stripping shines in scenarios where the target is to reclaim or purify a liquid by removing volatile impurities.

  • Absorption is often preferred when the goal is to prevent hazardous air emissions.
  • Stripping is more effective when the aim is to recover or concentrate a valuable component from a liquid mixture.

Cost Implications

The economic aspects of absorption and stripping vary significantly based on the scale of operation, materials used, and end-use of the separated components.

  • Absorption systems may incur higher costs due to the need for large amounts of solvents and potential solvent recovery systems.
  • Stripping, while potentially less solvent-intensive, may involve higher energy costs, especially if thermal stripping is used due to the heating requirements.

Challenges Faced

Common Issues in Absorption

Absorption processes can face several challenges:

  • Solvent Degradation: Solvents can degrade over time, losing effectiveness and requiring replacement.
  • Corrosion: Equipment may suffer from corrosion if the gas stream contains corrosive substances.
  • Pressure Drop: The pressure drop across the column can affect the efficiency of gas absorption, especially in packed columns.

Common Issues in Stripping

Stripping processes also encounter specific issues:

  • Energy Consumption: High energy consumption for heating the liquid can make stripping cost-inefficient in some applications.
  • Control of Emissions: Stripped gases may need treatment to meet environmental regulations, adding to operational costs.
  • Equipment Scaling: Mineral deposits can form on equipment, leading to operational inefficiencies and increased maintenance.


Recent Innovations in Absorption

Technological advancements in absorption include:

  • Improved Solvents: Development of new solvents that are more efficient, less corrosive, and more environmentally friendly.
  • Membrane Technology: Using membrane absorbers that provide high surface area and lower energy consumption.
  • Process Intensification: Techniques that enhance the rate of gas absorption, reducing the size and cost of the equipment.
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Recent Innovations in Stripping

Innovations in stripping focus on:

  • Energy Recovery Systems: Implementing heat exchange systems to reclaim heat from the process, reducing overall energy costs.
  • Advanced Control Systems: Utilization of sophisticated controls to optimize the stripping process, improving efficiency and consistency.
  • Modular Equipment: Design of compact, modular stripping units that can be easily integrated into existing processes.

Case Studies

Real-World Example of Absorption

A notable application of absorption can be seen in a large-scale chemical plant in the United States, which utilizes a multi-stage absorption system to remove sulfur dioxide from its exhaust gases. The system uses an aqueous solution of amines as the solvent, which effectively absorbs over 98% of the sulfur dioxide, significantly reducing air pollution and complying with environmental regulations.

Real-World Example of Stripping

In the oil refining industry, a facility in the Middle East employs a high-capacity stripping column to separate hydrocarbons from crude oil. The process involves heating the oil and allowing the lighter hydrocarbons to vaporize and be collected as gases. This method effectively concentrates the oil for further processing and maximizes the yield of valuable lighter fractions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is absorption?

Absorption is a process where compounds in a gas mixture are dissolved into a liquid solvent. This technique is commonly used to remove harmful components from gases before they are released into the environment or to capture valuable substances that can be reused.

How does stripping differ from absorption?

Stripping, or desorption, is the reverse of absorption. It involves removing a substance from a liquid by vaporizing it into a gas. This is often used in water treatment processes to remove contaminants or in chemical synthesis to recover solvents.

Why are absorption and stripping important?

These processes are critical in industries that require the separation of mixtures into their constituent parts. They are essential for environmental protection, resource recovery, and the production of high-purity products.

Can absorption and stripping be used together?

Yes, absorption and stripping can be integrated into a single process flow to enhance efficiency. This combination is often seen in industries like oil refining and natural gas processing, where multiple separations are required.


Absorption and stripping are cornerstone techniques in the field of industrial separation processes. Their ability to efficiently separate and purify components makes them indispensable in many sectors. As technology advances, these processes continue to evolve, offering greater efficiency and sustainability.

The ongoing innovation in the design and application of these techniques holds promise for future developments. Enhanced systems that offer lower energy consumption and higher selectivity are pivotal for meeting the environmental and economic challenges of tomorrow’s industrial landscape.

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