Crude oil makes the world revolve, so the major O&G giants would have you believe. Whilst this may be something of a hyperbole, there’s no denying that it’s still the major driver of global energy, and equally, geopolitics. But the viscous black substance extracted from beneath the Earth’s surface is by no means the finished product. We’ve discussed in previous blog posts about the separate processes in the oil industry: upstream, midstream and downstream. Extracting crude oil is an upstream process, refining it into a usable product, however, is a downstream activity and is absolutely essential. The refining process is complex and fascinating in equal parts, and certainly warrants its own investigation. So, that’s exactly what the team here at TriStone Holdings has decided to do for you!
Why Can Oil Be Refined?
Crude oil is formed of many different hydrocarbons (chemical compounds comprising, unsurprisingly, hydrogen and carbon). Because these component molecular compounds have different masses, this then means they have different boiling points. Following a process of heating, cooling and condensing. Because of this, crude oil can therefore be separated out into its constituent parts. Petroleum refining processes can be used to split crude oil down into:
- Lubricating oils
- LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas)
The History Of Oil Refining
The process of refining oil, as we know it today, was invented by Samuel M. Kier, an American inventor and entrepreneur. Though, in actual fact, the process can see its roots date as far back as the 6th century AD, with Chinese polymath Li Daoyuan. Cutting back to today, and the oil refinery industry produces some pretty seismic figures. For instance, some larger-scale refineries can process up to 900,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Types Of Oil Refinery
There are actually several kinds of oil refinery prevalent in the oil sector today. Though the conventional fractional distillation of crude oil is commonly used, there are more specific types also used in the O&G sector depending on what’s required. These include:
- Topping Oil Refinery. This is the simplest of all oil refineries and is used, primarily, to produce feedstocks in the production of petrochemicals and industrial fuels. These workhorses of the oil world produce huge quantities of these feedstocks, and are crucial in the health of the sector. Topping uses fractional distillation, and its processes are most akin to those listed earlier in the blog post.
- Hydro-Skimming Oil Refineries. These refineries are a little more complex than their topping counterparts. Though relatively similar in configuration, hydro-skimming plants are also able, through the addition of catalytic reformers, to produce higher octane fuels. These include benzene, xylene and toluene.
- Conversion Oil Refineries. These refineries are the show boaters of the refining world, offering the most versatile functionality and configuration. This type of refinery builds on the two types mentioned above and utilises similar processes. In addition, however, conversion refineries also involve more complex processes such as cracking and alkylation (a vital process in producing gasoline blending stock).
- Deep Conversion Refineries. These refineries introduce the process of coking into the mix (to help mitigate the production of residual fuels).
Regardless of the type, there’s no getting around the fact that these plants are integral. That’s not to say there can’t be any further improvements, however, and the industry is targeting the refineries as a point in the oil chain where greater efficiency can be introduced.
Improving Oil Refining
Advancements in technology and data learning are seeing refineries’ performance greatly improved. Similarly, cloud computing and its associated systems mean that efficiencies are being analysed with more accuracy and detail, and, as a result, problem areas are being plugged. This is saving oil refineries large levels of capital, especially in the longer term. Refineries need to continue to adapt to fluctuating markets and changing industry direction. In fact, it’s thought that by 2050, petrochemicals will account for almost 50% of the growth in oil demand.
Adaptability has always been a key facet of any successful oil and gas company. It is a naïve businessman that thinks they can have a whole career in the oil industry without changing tack every once in a while. Here at TriStone Holdings, our expertise and well-established team of connections means we’re well placed to adapt as and when is needed.
Oil refineries form a critical part of the industry. Without them, all we’d have would be an unsustainable, barely usable raw material. Thanks to them, however, we have a myriad selection of different fuels at our disposal, with each one perfect for its own individual situation. So, if you’d like to find out more about TriStone Holdings’ work as an oil and gas investment company, then get in touch! Contact us today on 0800 055 7079. Find out more about our press appearances here, and take a look at our Facebook page, as well!