The Kearns car repair experts at Master Muffler want to help you understand the science of petroleum, and how it works not just in your car, but in the world around you.

What is Petroleum?

Also known as fossil fuel, petroleum is a mixture of hydrocarbons and is a naturally occurring crude oil. The common elements found in petroleum include carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen. Other elements include nickel and vanadium.

Petroleum comes in three different forms.

  • Liquid – Also known as crude oil
  • Gas – Also known as natural gas
  • Solid – When raw, can be in the form of asphalt

How Petroleum is Formed

Dead animals, such as dinosaurs, zooplankton, and algae, provide the building blocks for petroleum. Decomposing organic materials buried in the Earth endure heat and pressure and, after millions of years, they are transformed into methane and graphite.

The first successful drill for oil was in Pennsylvania in 1859. Russia began drilling successfully in 1875. At present, there are numerous companies around the world that control the extraction, storage, trade, and distribution of petroleum.

  • 20,000 documented petroleum fields throughout the world
  • 66% in the Middle East
  • 2% in the United States

Initially, that first oil well was drilled for the extraction of kerosene to use in lamps. Any gasoline extracted was discarded. In 1892, when the first vehicles hit the scene, gasoline was seen as a valuable resource to be mined.

What is Crude Oil?

Not all oil looks or behaves the same. The crude oil mined around the world varies in color, odor, and viscosity. When you choose a motor oil for your vehicle, your owner’s manual probably recommends a weight; this is referring to the flow or viscosity of the oil. Different vehicles require different weights of oils to properly lubricate the engine systems and withstand certain temperatures and conditions.

Agencies Regulating the Petroleum Industry

Primarily, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulates all oil and gas companies in the United States. Other agencies also oversee some of the trade and crude oil distribution.

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – Manages onshore land, providing lease sale, states, and enforcement guidelines.
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) – Provides leases for offshore drilling, governing statutes, and regulations.
  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) – Enforces safety and regulations for gas resources, and provides incident statistics.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Regulates emissions.
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration (PHMSA) – Assesses the safety of existing pipelines, provides incident stats, and information regarding permits and regulations.
  • Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) – Ensures financial compliance of public utility holdings and companies that trade in the oil and gas industry.
  • U.S. Department of Energy – Manages nuclear infrastructure and provides the energy policy for the U.S.. Also funds scientific research.
  • United States Coast Guard – Responds to offshore oil spills.

What Petroleum is Used For

Petroleum is used as “feedstock,” which is the term for elements that are used in the production of numerous other materials. While the list is seemingly endless, a few common products of petroleum include the following:

  • Fuel 
  • Plastic 
  • Fertilizer
  • Asphalt
  • Textiles

At the United States’ current rate of use, the estimated amount of petroleum yet to be mined can last approximately 43 more years.

Octane Numbers

When you pull up to the gas pump in your car, you’ll see different numbers associated with the fuel. Known as the octane number, it refers to the gasoline’s anti-knocking property. If the wrong type of fuel is used in a vehicle, it can prevent efficient performance, and cause an audible knocking sound. So, in the 1920s, a scale was created to define the anti-knocking properties of different gasoline. Ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 being the best, this scale has been fine-tuned over the years.

The higher the percentage of isooctane in fuel, the lower the instances of engine knocking.

  • Regular: 87 – 89
  • Premium: 92

Using the wrong octane can lead to car repair needs since engines need fuel to burn at precise temperatures. Avoid needing to bring your car in for Kearns car repairs by referring to your owner’s manual for octane recommendations.

Petroleum Additives

Chemists have sought to continue to refine petroleum so it offers the best anti-knocking possible. In the 1920s, two General Motors employees wanted to increase the octane of gasoline and reduce the pollution in the burned fuel’s exhaust. By adding tetraethyllead, the chemists were able to reduce the number of unburned hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide when gasoline was burned. Unfortunately, this form of lead would accumulate in the engine and react with sunlight to produce elemental lead and halogen, which are harmful pollutants to the atmosphere.

Unleaded gasoline (that didn’t contain tetraethyl lead) was introduced in the 1970s when the harmful effects of lead were realized. 

Other Popular Additives

  • Ethyl alcohol
  • Methyl t-butyl ether (MTBE)
  • Ethanol
  • Methanol

Combustion Properties of Petroleum

When petroleum is burned, it releases carbon into the atmosphere.

Organic fuel (such as that made from corn) and fossil fuel have the same energy potential when burned. Organic fuel, however, is better for the environment as it contains 11% more oxygen.

Ideally, when petroleum is burned, it requires 14.7 kg of air for each kg of fuel. During combustion, the air is comprised of 3.4 kg oxygen and 11.3 kg nitrogen. The exhaust petroleum emits after combustion contains 3.15 kg carbon dioxide, 1.3 kg water, and the original 11.3 kg of nitrogen. All the oxygen was used in the combustion process, mixed with the fuel, and ignited by the spark.

In a diesel engine, the same process occurs, but it uses 43.5 kg of oxygen for each kg of diesel. Compression begins the combustion process and divides the air into 9.9 kg oxygen and 33.6 kg nitrogen. The exhaust contains 3.18 kg carbon dioxide, 1.25 kg water, 6.6 kg oxygen, and 33.6 kg nitrogen. 

We’re constantly looking for ways to reduce emissions into the atmosphere, or at least refine them enough that the particulate matter and gas are less harmful. Not only is this beneficial to the environment, but it keeps us from exhausting the fossils fuels available to us by seeking alternate sources of fuel, or making petroleum more efficient.

Contact the experts for Kearns car repair today.