Crude Oil

What is Crude Oil?

Crude oil is a mixture of compounds called hydrocarbons. Many useful materials can be produced from crude oil. It can be separated into different fractions using fractional distillation, and some of these can be used as fuels.

How are they made?

Crude oil forms naturally over millions of years from the remains of living things. Most of the compounds in crude oil are hydrocarbons. These are compounds that contain hydrogen and carbon atoms only, joined together by chemical bonds called covalent bonds. There are different types of hydrocarbon, but most of the ones in crude oil are alkanes.

Examples of Crude Oils:

Methane - CH4                         Ethane - C2H6

Propane - C3H8                       Butane - C4H10

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Fractional distillation

The diagram below summarises the main fractions from crude oil and their uses, and the trends in properties. Note that the gases leave at the top of the column, the liquids condense in the middle and the solids stay at the bottom.

The top of the column is cool (25 degrees celsius). Fractions taken from here have small molecules, low boiling points, are very volatile, flow easily and ignite easily. Crude oil enters at the bottom of the column and is heated to 350 degrees celsius. Fractions taken here have large molecules, high boiling points, are not very volatile, and don't flow or ignite easily. From top to bottom the fractions are: Refinery gases (bottled gas), gasoline (petrol), naptha (used for making chemicals), kerosene (aircraft fuel), diesel oil (fuel for cars, and lorries, etc), fuel oil (fuel for ships, power stations), residue (bitumen for roads and roofs). (http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/d1fc03f39806642998b1bd6ea1dda2c8e2e2b674.gif)

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