The Petroleum It is a complex, dense and bituminous mixture of hydrocarbons, formed due to the sedimentation and transformation of ancient organic matter, subjected for centuries to high pressures and temperatures in the subsoil. The places where the accumulated oil is found are known as oil fields.
It is a flammable substance, of enormous heat capacity and numerous industrial applications, especially in the generation of energy and processed materials for various manufacturing areas. This process of transforming crude oil into other usable substances is known as refinement and it takes place in a refinery.
The commercial importance of oil is so much that in the contemporary world fluctuations in the price of crude are capable of affecting entire economies and of tilting the world financial balance to one side or another.
Since it is a non-renewable natural resource, world oil reserves are estimated at about 143,000 million tons, unevenly distributed on the five continents: Venezuela has the largest reserves on the planet, especially under the Orinoco river basin and under Lake Maracaibo; the Middle East ranks second and Mexico, Canada, Argentina and Brazil third.
Oil, together with coal and other similar hydrocarbons, constitute the so-called fossil fuels.
Existing oil strains are normally distinguished according to their API gravity or API degrees, a measure of density compared to water. There are four types of “crude” oil, that is, unrefined, according to this measure:
- Light or light crude. It has 31.1 ° on the API scale or even higher.
- Medium or medium crude. It has between 22.3 and 31.1 ° API.
- Heavy oil. Gravity between 10 and 22.3 ° API.
- Extra heavy crude. Gravity less than 10 ° API.
Thus, the denser the oil, the more effort it will require to extract and therefore the more expensive the crude production operation will be.
Examples of petroleum applications
- Obtaining gasoline. One of the fuels in greatest demand in the world is gasoline in its various possible octane numbers, since it is the one that offers the highest comparative performance compared to other combustible substances, with an acceptable impact on the emission of toxic waste and gases that contribute to climate change. Even so, its consumption for internal combustion motor vehicles is so great on a global scale that ecological and economic alternatives to the demand for gasoline are already being pursued.
- Production of plastics. Plastics are artificial polymers obtained from the synthesis of organic compounds derived from petroleum, for their subsequent melting, molding and cooling, a process that gives them their many possible shapes and their subsequent resistance to physical deformation. They are extremely useful and in demand in a myriad of manufacturing industries, which make up from this type of materials from toys, containers, tools and utensils, to medical prosthetics and spare parts for machinery.
- Generation of electricity. Given its enormous combustion capacity, oil and many of its flammable derivatives are used to feed the boilers of electricity generation plants. Along with coal, nuclear reactions and hydroelectric power, oil is one of the main current energy resources, since infinite mechanisms in the world can be powered by the electricity generated.
- Domestic heating. Although there are district heating devices that work thanks to the consumption of electricity and not flammable substances, it is possible to find many whose heat generation responds to constant combustion, such as gas (mainly butane and propane obtained during the distillation of oil) . The latter, incidentally, is also supplied through cylinders or pipes to power the kitchens and water heaters in the homes of the population.
- Nylon production. It is true that nylon was once produced from natural resins, but today it is much simpler and cheaper to obtain it from benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons (cyclohexanes) resulting from petroleum refining.
- Acetone production and phenol. Acetone and other organic solvents widely used today in the production of cleaners, nail polish removers and other products of this nature, are easily synthesized from aromatic hydrocarbons in petroleum, especially cumene (isopropylbenzene). These products are also used as inputs in the pharmaceutical industry.
- Obtaining kerosene. This fuel, also called kerosene or canfin, is obtained through the distillation of oil and has an intermediate density between gasoline and diesel. It is used as a fuel in gas turbines and jet engines, in the preparation of solvents or in heating. Formerly it had an important place in the birth of public lighting in cities, before it was made with gas and then electric. Kerosene bulbs are still on sale.
- Obtaining asphalt. Also known as bitumen, this is a sticky, viscous, lead-gray material that makes up the heaviest fraction of crude oil. That is, once the oil has been distilled and the fuels and usable inputs obtained, what remains is asphalt. Being insoluble in water, it is used as a coating in waterproofing techniques and as a binder in the construction of highways, roads and other road infrastructure works.
- Tar production. Tar is a dense, dark, viscous substance with a strong odor, the product of the destructive distillation of substances such as coal, some resinous woods, minerals and, also, oil. It is a mixture of organic components, whose variant obtained from coal or oil is highly toxic and carcinogenic. Even so, it has various industrial applications, in paints, industrial resins, and its less lethal variants are used in the soap and tobacco industry.
- Obtaining light olefins. This is the name of ethylene, propylene and butene, substances obtainable during oil refining and that provide basic inputs to industries as dissimilar as pharmaceuticals, the manufacture of vehicle wheels, plastics and synthetic fibers for the textile industry.
- Manufacture of fertilizers. Many by-products of the petrochemical industry are nitrogenous or sulphated compounds that, added to the soil, provide plant life with an important nutritional boost. These fertilizers are used in agriculture and in biological experimentation.
- Manufacture of pesticides and herbicides. Agricultural companions of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to combat insects, fungi, parasitic grasses and other obstacles to agricultural production, usually contain xylenes, ammonia and amides, obtained by the petrochemical industry through various processes of separation of organic compounds and chemical treatment.
- Manufacture of lubricating oils. Of each barrel of refined oil, it is estimated that 50% is made up of paraffinic or naphthenic bases, that is, dense oils of organic origin that constitute an inexpensive and demanded lubricant for the optimal functioning of various machinery, such as automobile engines, for example. These lubricants can be mineral (direct from petroleum) or synthetic (obtained in the laboratory, from petroleum or other sources).
- Obtaining supplies for the laboratory. Numerous by-products of the oil industry in its various stages may not have immediate use, but they serve as input to the work of chemical laboratories of various kinds. The possibility of obtaining sulfur, hydrogen, nitrogen or other primary chemical elements throughout the chain of treatment of these hydrocarbons, or derivatives such as ammonia or ether, makes oil an endless source of raw material.
- Obtaining diesel. Also called diesel, or in its most popular sense: diesel, this liquid fuel is composed almost entirely of paraffins and has a higher density although slightly lower heating power than gasoline. Due to this density, diesel is more efficient and slightly less polluting than this, but it is used almost exclusively for cargo transport and ships.