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The physical and chemical processes that are used in an oil refinery

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The physical and chemical processes that are used in an oil refinery - BY RICHARD DILLEY Welcome to the Oil Refinery Oil production and refinement is one of the single most important industries in the world today. The crude oil based products we used everyday can include the petrol we use to drive our cars; the kerosene that fuels our planes and the even the roads we drive upon. However, there are many processes that are needed to obtain and develop the parts of the crude oil so that we can use them. Crude oil is made up of hundreds of hydrocarbons, each of which can be a vastly complex arrangement of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Crude oil is in its self, useless, but the solids, gases and liquids dissolved within it are highly valuable and are what first gave crude oil the name "black gold". The vast majority of crude oil is found miles beneath the ocean and as such must be piped from the source to the refineries back on land. At the refinery the oil meets its first process... Fractional Distillation As the crude oil enters the refinery it is heated and passed into a 'distillation column' (shown below). In the column the hottest temperature will be at the bottom and the coolest at the top. ...read more.


However, if the external pressure is reduced the boiling point range can be brought down to a more practical level and therefore further fractions can be obtained from the residue. This is done using a highly pressurized distillation column. The most important use of the crude oil refining process is for making petrol. Making better Petrol As I mentioned earlier, straight-run gasoline was initially used as a fuel for the internal combustion engine, but with mans need for speed and efficiency something had to be done. The most common problem with straight-run gasoline is 'knocking'. Knocking is what happens when the fuel ignites to quickly. In a petrol engine, the fuel must be made to ignite just before the piston reaches the top of the cylinder. If the fuel ignites at the wrong time then the cycle will be far less effective and less power will be produced. This is because the fuel igniting must move the piston the greatest possible amount. If the fuel were to ignite when the piston is only half way up the cylinder then the power output would not be that great. A hydrocarbon or mixture of hydrocarbons tendency to auto-ignite is measure by its octane number. Making the right Octane Number There are many ways for petrol blenders to alter the octane number of the fuel they wish to produce. ...read more.


The catalyst will have become covered in carbon and will therefore be useless. It has to pass into the 'regenerator' where the carbon is 'burnt' off using the oxygen in air. The products are smaller, lighter hydrocarbons which can be removed from the separator in a gaseous state. Oxygenates The two most common types of oxygenate used in petrol manufacture are alcohols and ethers. Oxygenates are fuels which contain oxygen molecules and they have high octane number. Straight-run gasoline has an octane number of 70 but methanol and ethanol have octane numbers of 114 and 111 respectively. 2-methoxy-2-methylpropane is the most commonly used oxygenate and is used in all performance grades of unleaded: Unleaded regular 93 octane 0.6% MTBE added Unleaded premium 95 octane 2.2% MTBE added Unleaded super plus 98 octane 7.0% MTBE added Blending to make the right fuel The ideal fuel can only be obtained from thorough blending and accurate mixing of the following: straight run gasoline; product from isomerisation; product from catalytic cracking; butane; MTBE; Ethanol; and Methanol. To get the 'right' blend of petrol the blenders must consider the price and performance (octane number) of the petrol. When they have met a balance of these two variables then the petrol will be blended in batches of about 20 000 000 litres and then shipped off to the petrol stations. Thus, our story ends, we have followed the hydrocarbons from their birth as crude oil to their destiny as petrol for the cars that help sustain the lifestyles we live today. 1 ...read more.

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