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The processes involved in the refining of hydrocarbons

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Introduction

Chemistry 20I

The processes involved in the refining of hydrocarbons

        Today the world is heavily dependant on hydrocarbon compounds for motive power, fuel, drugs and many synthetics. But before these necessary products are made the initial hydrocarbons must be refined. The modern refining industries began in 1859, using the process of basic distillation to remove impurities, such as nitrogen, oxygen and organic salts. Today this is still the most widely used refining process in alcohol and petroleum industries. With modern technology  processes of cracking, chemical processing, unification and alteration/alkylation are also used to refine hydrocarbons.

        The process of distillation involves condensation to separate the substances composing the mixture. A distillation apparatus consists essentially of three parts: a flask equipped with a thermometer and with an outlet tube from which the vapour is emitted; a condenser that consists of two tubes of different diameters placed one within the other and so arranged that the smaller (in which the vapour is condensed)

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Middle

        Cracking is the process of breaking down certain hydrocarbons into smaller ones of lower boiling points by means of excess heat, pressure, catalysts etc. Cracking is useful for creating products that are in greatest demand. There are two main types of cracking. Thermal cracking is the heating of large hydrocarbons at high temperatures or high pressures until they break. High temperature steam (816°C) is used to break ethane, butane and naphtha into ethylene and benzene. Visbreaking is when the residual from the distillation tower is heated (482°C) cooled with gas oil and rapidly burned or flashed in a distillation tower. This process reduces the viscosity of heavy weight oils and produces tar. Coking is when the residual from the distillation tower is heated to temperatures above 482°C until it cracks into heavy oil, gasoline and naphtha[2]. The products of this process are heavy, almost pure carbon residue.

        Chemical processing or catalytic refining involves a catalyst to speed up the cracking reaction.

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Conclusion

        In the refining of hydrocarbons the process mentioned above are often combined to increase the efficiency and purity of the end product. An example of this is the refining of oil which is done with a combination of several unit.[3] With the basic distillation process as well as the modern cracking units, reformers and alkylation units a number of useful compounds are produced to be used in our everyday life style. The refining of hydrocarbons, although necessary to maintain our standard of material living and comfort, are creating a serious environmental hazard. The great quantities that are burned as fuels generate most of the air pollution in industrialized countries while oil spills from tankers and offshore wells pollute the oceans and coastlines. As our knowledge increases so does the technology. There are constantly new ideas being testing to improve the processes involved in the refining of hydrocarbons but until then distillation, cracking, unification and alteration are the most efficient processes of refining.  


[1]  See appendix (1) Craig Freudenrich, oil refining,

[2]  See appendix (2) Craig Freudenrich, oil refining,

[3]  See appendix (3) Craig Freudenrich, oil refining,

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