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[Energy] [Column] All About Petroleum - (3) The Fuel That Drives Civilization Forward

by Eco Generation | 02-07-2019 08:56 Comments 4 recommendations 0

 The Fuel That Drives Civilization Forward



By Science Columnist Ho-Gwan Ko




Have you ever seen oilfields in news or documentaries? If you have, you might have seen what petroleum fresh out of the ground looks like. It is a black, sticky liquid. We often see in movies that people who have been looking for petroleum finally cheer with black oil all over their bodies. However, this is not the products petroleum and kerosene we use in our daily lives. This is because we do not use the oil extracted from the ground as it is.

This form of petroleum differs from that of petroleum products, such as gasoline and kerosene that we often encounter in everyday life. This is because we do not use the petroleum we extracted from the ground.

The natural petroleum from the ground is called “crude oil.” Crude oil is a mixture of various compounds, and it cannot be used as it is due to too many impurities. Only after it goes through the separation and refining process in oil refineries can we make various petroleum products with crude oil.

How is the liquid, petroleum, distilled according to components? A method called “fractional distillation” is used. The basic principle is simple. When the liquid heats up to a boil, it turns into gas. This gas becomes liquid again when it cools down. Let's look at an example of separating liquid with water and alcohol. The boiling point of water is 100℃, while that of alcohol (ethanol) is about 78℃. When this mixture is heated, the temperature rises, and when it reaches 78℃, the alcohol starts to boil first. The alcohol becomes steam and rises upwards. By collecting this steam separately and cooling it, you can get liquid alcohol.

It is applied the same to any liquid with various ingredients like petroleum. When the crude oil is heated, the component with the lowest boiling point will be steamed out. When the temperature reaches about 30℃, petroleum gas is boiled off first. Petroleum gas is usually made into liquid and used for industrial or domestic purposes. This is what we call LPG. The canned fuel used for portable gas ranges is one kind of LPG. It is often called butane gas. LPG is an efficient fuel, because it generates a lot of heat even after being heated a little, but you need to be careful, as it easily explodes and does not spread into the air since it is heavier than air. LPG itself is actually colorless and odorless, but odorous ingredients are added to the gas on purpose to help detect possible gas leaks quickly.

Next, gasoline, which is used as an automobile fuel, as well as naphtha are boiled off at 30-140℃. Gasoline, as its name implies, is a volatile liquid. This means that gasoline evaporates quickly in the air. It is very dangerous if there is a lot of gasoline vapor in the air, because it can explode with just a small flame. You need to be especially careful in places like gas stations, because even static sparks can catch fire. Naphtha is decomposed and widely used as fuel for petroleum chemicals.

Kerosene boils off at 150-280℃. In the past, kerosene was a popular fuel for lighting. Before the emergence of gasoline-powered vehicles, it was the most important ingredient in petroleum. It was widely used for heating boilers and cooking stoves, but nowadays, gas boilers have become more popular at home. Kerosene can be mixed with various additives and other components to make jet fuel for airplanes.

At 230-350℃, diesel comes out. It is also a widely used fuel for transportation along with gasoline. As diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines, they are used for large vehicles, trains, and ships. Since diesel is cheaper than gasoline, it is also used in passenger cars. However, diesel engines produce more noise, make uncomfortable rides, and emit more pollutants; they are seen as a culprit behind environmental pollution such as fine dust.

At temperatures over 350℃, heavy oil boils off. It is the heaviest of liquid petroleum products. Since it must be heated before use, it is not suitable for small vehicles that do not have space for a preheating device. It is mainly used for large ships and power plants, as the price is also cheap.

Lastly, there are components that last until the end. They are used as asphalt for paving roads. As such, every fraction of petroleum matters. It is no exaggeration to say that the driving force behind the revolution of industrial civilization that has been ruling the world in the 20th century is petroleum.


 The Fuel That Drives Civilization Forward


  • Yushika Subedi says :
    I can keep reading this again and again. So amazing article.
    Posted 11-04-2020 20:01

  • Rachu Khanal says :
    Thanks for this great article
    Posted 31-03-2020 07:52

Kushal Naharki

  • Kushal Naharki says :
    Thanks for the new article @EcoGeneration
    These are so exciting to read.
    Looking forward for the new article next week now.
    Posted 03-07-2019 01:00

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