Oil has been one of the most common and lucrative natural resources for decades, with entire industries revolving around extracting, refining and transporting it. However, most people don’t understand how the oil we drill for in offshore refineries or fracking fields gets turned into the gasoline we put into our cars. The treatment process involves three different steps, and understanding how they work will help illuminate this important industry.
The first step involves distilling the oil molecules, letting them separate by exposing them to high temperatures (up to 400 degrees Celsius) at normal atmospheric pressure. This allows the lighter molecules to separate from the heavier ones and evaporate. The remaining molecules are the crude oil components that the other two steps treat.
Next, the remaining heavy oil molecules are converted to lighter products in a process called “cracking”. Depending on the specific product that specific chemical plants want, there are different specific processes that can be applied at this stage. Smaller hydrocarbons in the oil can be joined together in a process called unification; molecules can be rearranged in a process called alkylation.
Whatever specific conversion process is done at this stage, the oil is heated to about 500 degrees and a catalyst is applied. This allows the chemical process to happen a lot faster.
Finally, the oil is treated to remove unwanted contaminants from the final product. This stage is very important, as removing contaminants decreases air pollution when the oil is burned up. Treatment ensures that the final product gives off fewer sulfur emissions; gasoline in most major American cities is refined to a higher degree for this exact reason.
When trying to understand the importance of oil refinement, it is important to know the different stages of the process. This makes it easier to appreciate the important role oil plays in our everyday lives.