Main content | back to top
Crude oil is either shipped or sent through pipelines to reach the refinery where it is turned into many usable products.
Making Fractions: Separating Crude Oil into Parts
Crude oil is separated into its different parts, or fractions, by heating inside a fractional distiller. First, the crude oil boils off in the bottom of the distiller. Then, the gasses condense at different temperatures into liquid (this temperature is also the boiling point temperature). By controlling the temperature of the distiller (hot on the bottom, cooler on top) scientists can control when things condense and therefore when and where they "draw them off." Each fraction is stripped out, layer by layer.
Don’t forget the X-ray Glasses
Recently, we caught up with two engineers and asked them what makes their jobs COOL. Their answer was the awesome tools they get to work with.
One really cool tool is the Infrared (IR) technology in the plants. The IR camera can see through the walls of the processing equipment by finding areas of heat. This helps engineers see the level of liquid (and sometimes solids like sludge) inside tanks. It also helps them see if fluids are mixing at the right temperatures, which helps technicians speed up the process of dealing with corrosion.
The refinery has computers which analyze each individual boat load of crude oil. It can tell the workers its chemical make-up, how much gasoline/diesel it will be able to provide, and its corrosion potential, right up front!
They also have a machine called a delayed coker. Its job is to upgrade “asphalt” into gasoline. When all the useful parts are taken away from the crude oil, something called coke is left behind. No, not the drink! The hard, asphalt-like coke forms inside these huge 30-40 inch drums, and every day it gets blasted away with high-pressure water.
Some of the coolest tools in the plant are the cyclones, similar to the ones found in your vacuum cleaner at home, which clean the air. The difference is that these are 20 feet tall, and need to operate continuously for 10-15 years. Talk about a long workday!
And did you know the plants have bugs? These little guys are an important part of the waste water system – they clean the waste water so that it can be discharged into the public water way. In short, we feed them the bad stuff in the water, and they give us back clean water. Everybody’s happy!