The United States goes through around 337 million gallons of gasoline per day. That’s just one country in a world that runs on gasoline to fuel transportation, deliveries, and more.
In that whirlwind of fuel usage, though, have you ever stopped to wonder where your gasoline comes from? The use of gasoline and diesel comprise much of the national fuel usage, and it’s worth knowing where those resources come from.
We’re going to talk about the manufacture of fuels today, giving you some insight into the process that’s been providing you with gas for your entire life. Let’s take a look.
Where Does Your Fuel Come From?
The whole process starts with what is called “crude oil.” Crude oil is the rawest form of oil that we find in natural depositories. Oil companies need to dig deep into the ground to find oil wells and install complex rigs to pump that oil out of the ground.
This process has been going on for a long time. Ancient civilizations didn’t dig for oils, but they found oil deposits at the surface and used the liquid to help with the construction process, for medicinal purposes, and for waterproofing structures and boats.
The oil then became an aid in lighting lamps. Archeologists have found evidence of humans digging up to 100 feet to harvest oil at some point around 500 B.C.
Commercial oil wells weren’t around until the mid-1800s. A man called Edwin L. Drake had the idea to drill for commercial oil around 40 years before the oil industry would explode.
The industry took off in a relationship with the newly-invented automobile. One of the founders of Mercedes-Benz produced the first car that ran on gasoline, which is the product of refined crude oil.
When Henry Ford made vehicles more affordable, the need for oil skyrocketed. Thus, we’ve had an ever-thirsty need for crude oil to refine into gasoline, diesel fuels, and more. Oil wells are found all over the world, but most of the crude oil we use in the United States comes from North America.
The Transformation Process
Once a source of crude oil is discovered, companies rush in to set up equipment and start mining for it. They drill deep, tap the resource, and the oil starts flowing.
In addition to that process, there need to be ways that the oil gets transported to refineries. Crude oil isn’t much good for the average consumer because all of our products require refined oils.
There are pipelines created and stretched across vast geographic areas. A lot of the crude oil that refineries receive comes via the work of a massive pipeline. These are the lines that you hear about when things go wrong.
A crack in a pipeline or a burst can make a massive environmental impact. Oil is flowing through that line at a high rate, so one small leakage can spill out over the course of a few days and devastate a local water table and all of the wildlife therein.
Most of the oil, though, makes it to the refinery without any issue. There are also different fuel supplier methods that don’t use pipelines or similar dangerous methods. Once the oil is there, it gets refined.
How Refinement Works
Refining oil is a complex chemical process. Note that oil is the byproduct of plants and animals breaking down inside of the earth. Organic matter breaks down over thousands of years, gets heated by the core of the earth, and turns into sludge under the massive pressure of the soil.
When the organic matter gets into that state, it mixes and changes in different ways, mostly having to do with the number of carbons it contains. Broken down plant and animal matter consists of hydrocarbons that have different numbers of carbon atoms in their structure.
The key to refining oil in different ways is to adjust the number of carbons in the liquid. The key in that process is called “fractional distillation.” This process is essentially a matter of boiling the crude oil at different temperatures to remove particular numbers from the carbon chain.
Gasoline requires eight carbons, whereas petroleum needs to have three. If you boil things down at too high or low of heat, you’ll end up with the wrong type of fuel.
The result of fractional distillation isn’t the end of the process. Those products are still stuffed with a lot of impurities that would do damage to vehicles and other machines that require fuel. So, the fuel gets treated for impurities.
It’s treated with sulfuric acid to remove a number of chemical byproducts that occur when the fuel gets boiled and manipulated into different chemical states. Oxygen compounds, unique hydrocarbons, and different forms of nitrogen are all removed through the sulfuric acid treatment.
The fuel then moves through a filter to remove any water or sulfur and comes out on the other side as clean as it needs to be. At that point, the fuel is ready to ship to its destination.
Delivery to Your Area
Once the refinery does its job, the fuel gets filled into gasoline trucks and boats that take it all across the world. The supply chain is pretty streamlined, though, so it’s unlikely that fuel would travel over different continents before getting to consumers.
Most of the crude oil sources and refineries we use are in the United States or somewhere in North America. So, those trucks load up and bring the fuel to wherever it needs to go.
In most cases, that means the gas station near your house. So, the next time you fill up, keep in mind that you’re pumping the organic matter from ancient animals and plants, boiled down to remove carbons, and chemically refined into your tank.
Want to Learn More About Fuel Sources?
There’s a massive fuel industry to break down and understand. The more you know about it, the better you can appreciate ways to change it and move forward. We’re here to help.
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