Crude oil is liquid petroleum that is obtained from oil wells. It is basically a fossil fuel that is formed under certain environmental conditions via a process that takes as long as millions of years. Chemically, it is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons i. e. molecules that comprise of long chains or rings of hydrogen and carbon and contains approximately 84-87% carbon and 11-13% hydrogen. Crude oil also contains other molecules such as sulfur, oxygen, helium and nitrogen in varying amounts (Sosnowska 1).
Crude oil can be classified as ‘ light’ or ‘ heavy’ depending on its relative density. It can also be categorized as ‘ sweet’ or ‘ sour’ based on its sulfur content. Light crude oil is preferred over the heavy one as it contains higher amounts of hydrocarbons that can be recovered easily during refining. Similarly, sweet crudes are more desirable since they contain lower amounts of sulfur, an element that lowers the end-product quality of the oil (Sosnowska 1).
Since crude oil is composed of hydrocarbon molecules which can be easily processed into a variety of chemical structures and forms, it is exploited as a precursor for developing many products around the world today. Primarily, crude oil is used as a source of energy by virtue of the carbon-hydrogen bonds in its structure that store energy in abundance. It is also put to use as a raw material for producing a host of usable commodities that range from the commonly found plastic bags and bottles, cosmetics, synthetic textiles, tires and credit cards to the more sophisticated ones such as asphalt for road construction, circuit boards, batteries, paints, food packaging materials and medical supplies. Crude oil is also exploited by the pharmaceutical and fertilizer industries to make drug capsules and pesticides, respectively (Sosnowska 1).
Since crude oil cannot be used in its natural state, for it to be utilized in practical applications, it must undergo purification i. e. fractional distillation that refines liquid petroleum and separates the many compounds present in it. Each of the fractions obtained from fractional distillation of crude oil finds specialized practical uses. For example, the lower-value distillate viz. the residual fuel oil is utilized to power ships while the middle distillate namely, diesel is used to fuel cars and jets and as home heating oil in the form of kerosene. The high value fraction that comprises of gasoline, naphtha and liquid petroleum gas is the most widely used component of crude oil and is extensively used to power vehicles, for manufacturing cosmetics, rubber and lubricants and as cooking fuel (Sosnowska 1).
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Sosnowska, Monika. “ Crude Oil and its Derivatives.” Comtechniques: The Newsletter for Mintech Clients. A Mintech Newsletter, 30 May, 2012. Web. 19 Dec. 2013.