What is Crude Oil


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What is Crude Oil?

The oil we find underground is called crude oil

Crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons - from almost solid to gaseous. These were produced when tiny plants and animals decayed under layers of sand and mud millions of years ago.

Crude oil has to be changed before it can be used for anything. This happens in an oil refinery.

Crude oil doesn't always look the same – it depends where it comes from. Sometimes it is almost colourless, or it can be thick and black. But crude oil usually looks like thin, brown treacle.

There are three types of crude oil

1. Heavy crude which is dark, thick and sticky
2. Light crude which is a light golden color and flows easily
3. Medium crude

What Happens At The Oil Refinery?

A refinery is a factory. A refinery takes a raw material (crude oil) and transforms it into petrol and hundreds of other useful products.

A typical large refinery costs billions of dollars to build and millions more to run and upgrade. It runs around the clock 365 days a year, employs hundreds of people and occupies as much land as several hundred football fields.

The first step is always primary distillation

The Refinery breaks crude oil down into its various components, which then are selectively changed into new products. This process takes place inside a maze of pipes and vessels. The refinery is operated from a highly automated control room.

All refineries perform three basic steps:

Separation (fractional distillation)
Conversion (cracking and rearranging the molecules)

Crude oil is a complicated mixture of compounds - most of them hydrocarbons.

This mixture is split up into different fractions in the distillation tower. The fractions come out of the column at different levels.

A distillation tower is often called a still. The atmospheric still is the tall steel tower in the middle.

Oil is one of the most important raw materials we have. It has been used for thousands of years. Nowadays, we used lots of things made from oil.

An oil refinery changes oil into useful products:

Fuels - Petroleum, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), Kerosene, Naphtha, and Fuel Oil
Grease that is turned into candle wax
Bitumen, which is used for road surfaces
Other useful chemicals which can be made into Plastics, Man made fibers such as Nylon and Polyester, Washing Power and Farming Chemicals

It's not just the appearance of crude oil that changes. Crudes from different sources have different make-ups. Some may have more of the valuable lighter hydrocarbons and some may have more of the heavier hydrocarbons.

The compositions of different crudes are measured and published in assays. The refinery uses the information in these assays to decide which crudes it will buy to make the products that its customers need at any given time.

When crude oil comes out of a well (especially an undersea well), the crude oil is often mixed with gases, water and sand. It forms an emulsion with the water that looks a bit like caramel.

The sand is suspended in the emulsion, adding to the caramel effect. The sand will settle out and the water is removed using de-emulsifying agents. They have to be separated from the crude oil before it can be processed ready for transportation by tanker or pipeline.

The dissolved gases have to be removed at the well. Otherwise, they might come out of solution and cause a build up of pressure in a pipe or a tanker.

The crude oil also contains sulphur. This has to be removed from any fractions that are going to be burnt because it forms sulphur dioxide which contributes to acid rain.

So any fractions that go into fuels pass through hydrofiners to remove the sulphur.

What are the most popular petrochemical products derived from crude oil?

We use them everyday!

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