In the early 1950's Dr. Karl Hachmuth, of Phillips Petroleum Company, was studying the effectiveness of distillation devices and decided that too little was known for design engineers to properly predict distillation results. He concluded that research was needed on plant-scale equipment and also concluded that such research was too expensive for any one company. He then promoted the concept of cooperative research to technical representatives of other companies, who found the idea good. Mr. T.B. Hudson, of Phillips, did much of the organizational work that developed the structure of Fractionation Research, Inc. (FRI) and became its first President. By February 1, 1952, 15 companies had executed the FRI agreement and incorporation was completed on April 4, 1952. By the first stockholder meeting, November 10, 1952, there were 37 member companies.
In January, 1954, FRI entered into a contract with C.F. Braun & Co., Alhambra, California, to use their simulator. The first four foot (1.2m) diameter FRI column was contracted in March, 1954, and operations began September 30, 1954. An eight foot (2.4m) diameter extension to the research column was made in 1960. A four foot diameter high pressure column was added in 1963. Operations continued at C.F. Braun until November, 1989.
The equipment was then moved to a site at Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, and began operating in August, 1991. The FRI experimental facility includes two commercial-scale distillation columns along with the equipment needed to support their operation. The auxiliary equipment includes low and high pressure reboilers, low and high pressure condensers, as well as a dedicated boiler and cooling water tower. The two columns have the capability to operate from deep vacuum in the low pressure column, to 500 psia in the high pressure column. Every column has 48" internal diameter by 28 foot section, but the low pressure column also has a section 96" in diameter and 12 feet high. Each column is equipped with a permanent, automated gamma ray scanning capability to provide liquid holdup measurements during the experimental runs.
Visual observation and video recording is accomplished via windows strategically located on the columns.
The experimental unit was refurbished and debottlenecked between 2007 and 2009. It has been demonstrated to be capable of testing the full range of hydraulic capacity of all known column internal contacting devices, including the current generation of co-current flow trays.
Over our history, FRI has run a variety of test systems, but essentially all of the current experiments are done with three hydrocarbon binary systems; isobutane/n-butane (100 psia to 500psia), cyclohexane/n-heptane (4.5 psia to 50 psia), and paraxylene/orthoxylene (16 mmHg- 15 psia).
In May of 2011 windows and some additional instrumentation were added to the Low Pressure Reboiler. These additions are being used to better understand and model entrainment from kettle reboilers.
FRI has been responsible for some of the most significant advances in distillation throughout the last 60 years. FRI members rely on FRI technology to do their distillation column design, retrofit, revamp, and troubleshooting by using FRI rating programs, database, design handbooks and technical reports.