Figure 2-5 deals with a simple single-stage process. That is, the fluids are flashed in an initial separator and then the liquids from that separator are flashed again at the stock tank. Traditionally, the stock tank is not normally considered a separate stage of separation, though it most assuredly is.
Figure 2-6 shows a three-stage separation process. The liquid is first flashed at an initial pressure and then flashed at successively lower pressures two times before entering the stock tank.
Because of the multi component nature of the produced fluid, it can be shown by flash calculations that the more stages of separation after the initial separation the more light components will be stabilized into the liquid phase. This can be understood qualitatively by realizing that in a stage separation process the light hydrocarbon molecules that flash are removed at relatively high pressure, keeping the partial pressure of the intermediate hydrocarbons lower at each stage. As the number of stages approaches infinity, the lighter molecules are removed as soon as they are formed and the partial pressure of the intermediate components is maximized at each stage. The compressor horsepower required is also reduced by stage separation as some of the gas is captured at a higher pressure than would otherwise have occurred. This is demonstrated by the example presented in Table 2-1.