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Tthe vapor–liquid equilibrium
(VLE) describes the distribution of a chemical species between the gas phase and a liquid phase.
The concentration of a vapor in contact with its liquid, especially at equilibrium, is often expressed in terms of vapor pressure, which will be a partial pressure (a part of the total gas pressure) if any other gas(es) are present with the vapor. The equilibrium vapor pressure of a liquid is in general strongly dependent on temperature. At vapor–liquid equilibrium, a liquid with individual components in certain concentrations will have an equilibrium vapor in which the concentrations or partial pressures of the vapor components have certain values depending on all of the liquid component concentrations and the temperature.
For each component in a binary mixture, one could make a vapor–liquid equilibrium diagram. Such a diagram would graph liquid mole fraction on a horizontal axis and vapor mole fraction on a vertical axis. In such VLE diagrams, liquid mole fractions for components 1 and 2 can be represented as x1 and x2 respectively, and vapor mole fractions of the corresponding components are commonly represented as y1 and y2. Similarly for binary mixtures in these VLE diagrams:
= 1 and y1
Such VLE diagrams are square with a diagonal line running from the (x1 = 0, y1 = 0) corner to the (x1 = 1, y1 = 1) corner for reference.
These types of VLE diagrams are used in the McCabe–Thiele method to determine the number of equilibrium stages (or theoretical plates) needed to distill a given composition binary feed mixture into one distillate fraction and one bottoms fraction. Corrections can also be made to take into account the incomplete efficiency of each tray in a distillation column when compared to a theoretical plate.