How fuel is made? The process from extraction of oil to filling the tanks
Fuel has become a vital commodity and plays a key role in our lives. This article deals about the entire process of oil extraction, processing, refining and finally reaching the end consumer where you (as the end consumer) fills up your tanks and continue with your busy lives. Had there been no oil refineries refining and selling it for you, our world would be very different today. For instance, imagine devastating impacts that the 1973 oil embargo by OPEC had on peoples' lives in America. Now, let us look at how fossil fuel is made to be sold at petrol pumps:
1. Fuel exploration - The first step in processing fuel is finding it. A team of expert geologists and geophysicists led by a team leader get involved in the technical process of finding provable or possible oil reserves or hydrocarbon reserves deep under the earth. Natural gas and oil seeps from different places pointing to the fact of possible reserves of oil & gas situated deep beneath. However the usual process starts by using expensive and highly sophisticated technology by various companies that are specifically hired for oil exploration. Gravity surveys, magnetic surveys, and seismic reflection surveys are just some of the methods used by geologists to find possible reserves of fossil fuel. Risk and investment are directly related to each other when it comes to exploring fuel. This is because if no oil reserves are found, the entire cost of drilling and exploration would get wasted. Therefore careful selection needs to be made to determine the exact locations for oil drilling. Furthermore even in the most prominent oil walls, it is not possible to extract more than 2/3rds of oil due to physical and technological limitation of reaching extreme depths.
2. Oil shipment -After the oil is extracted using machinery and technology, it gets shipped to the oil refineries where it gets processed and refined to make many by-products out of it. This process of transportation is carried by either pipelines or tankers and conducted in a highly secure area under strict security protocol. Since fossil fuel (even unrefined) is inflammable in nature, it is transported with extreme care and precaution so that it does not get burst by getting in contact with flammable substances like fire or dangerous chemicals.
3. Oil Refining - When oil reaches refinery, it gets involved into various small and large scaled extremely complex processes of refining. A chemical refinery can be described as a city within a city. It is an amazingly complex & complicated large scale chemical and oil processing plant. Raw or unprocessed crude oil is usually not used in the world (with exception to light diesel oil), resulting in oil refining.
The entire process of oil refining is too long to be described in this limited space hence a brief summary is given below:
Oil flows from various procedures to get refined and processed resulting in several by-products like gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene oil, liquefied petroleum gas, heating oil, lubricating oils, petroleum coke, paraffin wax & natural gas, each having their own unique purposes. Crude oil gets divided into numerous fractions to get through the fractional distillation process. Each fraction has separate boiling points, where lower boiling points are situated in the beginning and higher ones on the top. Fractional distillation at the bottom gets different light products, like petroleum wax, diesel oil and kerosene oil etc. Heavier and further distillation requires more time, energy and investment, resulting in petrol, and natural gas. Many companies are involved in refining oil. The most notable companies are situated in oil rich Gulf and Arabian countries namely Kuwait, Iran, Iraq, Oman, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, and not to forget the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco, a joint venture between America and Saudi Arabia having equal shares is the world's largest oil refinery involved in all process from oil exploration to processing and selling at petrol pumps in Saudi Arabia. It's estimated worth stands at around $700 billion due to huge proven reserves of oil. The most notable city in Saudi Arabia is Yanbu-Al-Sinaiyah, home to oil refining companies catering to nearly 10% world oil demand.
4. Oil selling, reaching the final consumer - After the oil processing is completed, main products like gasoline, diesel and natural gas get separated to be shipped via tankers, pipelines or cylinders to various petrol pumps throughout the area or city. By-products like petroleum jelly, wax, paraffin, kerosene oil and heating oil are packed and processed for several other purposes and marketed by different companies that manufacture chemicals and products like petroleum jellies, waxes, mosquito/fly killer sprays, paints, and even medicines, etc.
Oil sold at petrol pumps for cars usually range in three different types, namely light diesel, petrol and hi-octane petrol, leaded petrol is not usually available anymore. Diesel cars & petrol cars have different engines and cannot be used interchangeably. On the other hand petrol and hi-octane (a relatively expensive fuel with higher levels of octane) can also be used in combination, but only on petrol running vehicles. With the rising oil prices, a fourth type of fuel could also be seen in many gas pumps across the world, especially in developing countries like India, and Pakistan, known as Compressed Natural Gas. Compared to petrol, it is half as cheap and highly economical. CNG fuel can only be used in vehicles running on petrol. A CNG conversion kit is installed to fill CNG and provide an alternative fuel to the car.
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