As was stated in Part 1 of this series, the first thing that crude oil sees when it arrives at a petroleum refinery is the atmospheric tower.  In order to make gasoline, refiners exert a lot of effort to squeeze as much naphtha out of the crude as possible.  Nevertheless, there is a great quantity of other stuff in there too.  Here is a list of materials in crude oil that is separated by the atmospheric tower, starting with the most volatile and ending with the least volatile.

  • Gases – molecules containing 1 to 4 carbons, methane and ethane are used for fuel, propane and butane are liquefied petroleum gas.
  • Naphtha – molecules containing 5 to 12 carbons, used to make gasoline.
  • Kerosene – molecules containing 10 -16 carbons, known as jet fuel, but also used for lighting and heating.
  • Diesel Oils – molecules containing 14 -20 carbons,  used to run cars,  trucks, and, trains.
  • Lubricating Oil – molecules containing 20 -50 carbons, applications include lubrication, waxes, and polishes.
  • Fuel Oil – molecules containing 20 -70 carbons, used for ships, factories, and central heating.
  • Residue – molecules containing more than 70 carbons, asphalt for roads and roofing.

Most of these distilled products will still be needed in the future.  At present I cannot imagine airplanes nor ships being run by methane or by batteries.  Car, truck, bus, and train manufacturers have announce that, sometime in the near future, their brand of vehicle will be completely run by batteries – in some cases by methane also.

That leaves the big question:  what will we do with all that naphtha and diesel?  Please check back to find out as this series develops.




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