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Alkanes: Sources and Relevance

Alkanes: Use of Crude Oil

Crude oil itself is known for more than 2000 years and had many uses in the Mediterranean countries where it was found. Among others, it was used as building material in mortar and in Egypt for the embalmment of corpses. Until the end of the 19th century, crude oil was only used for lighting and heating purposes, if at all. Mostly, animal fats instead of crude oil were used for these purposes. The basis of modern oil refineries was laid between 1810 and 1817 in Galicia where kerosene was produced from crude oil by distillation. However, the first really important source of crude oil was later exploitet by E.L.Drake in Oil Creek Valley, Pennsyvania, USA, on August 27, 1859, by tapping an oil reservoir at 22 meters. One year later, Eichler, a student of Liebig's, developed refining techniques in Baku. Alfred B. Nobel and his brothers founded the company "Naphta-Gesellschaft Gebrüder Nobel", exploited the oil fields at the Caspian Sea and moved the crude oil through a pipeline to industries located at the Black Sea. The name "crude oil" was only coined in 1913 by Hans von Höfer. Prior to this date, the word rock oil, a direct translation of the Latin/Greek word petroleum, was used.

Movie: Distillation of crude oil

With the introduction of petroleum based combustion engines, such as the Diesel and Otto engines, crude oil gained and still maintains special importance. Fig.1 shows the use of crude oil in Germany in 1999.

Fig.1
Use of crude oil products in Germany in 1999

In 1999 Germany consumed 128.2 million tons of mineral oil.

Schematic display of crude oil products

The category "Other", for example, contains lubricants. Bitumen, originating from the Latin word for tar, is being used as a protective coat for buildings and in road construction.

Petrochemicals with about 19 million tons represent only a fraction of the total crude oil being used, but nevertheless play a crucial role for organic chemists. In 1950, about 44 % of organic chemicals were derived from crude oil. This number even increased to 96% in 1978. The remainder was produced from coal.

Because of its fat-dissolving properties gasoline is used in additional applications, such as in cleaner's naphtha and in surgical spirit and for defatting leather- and metalwares, textiles and jewelry. Gasoline is also being used for the extraction of lipophilic compounds, for example in the production of rubber, paraffin and vaseline to separate fats, vegetable oils, phosphorus, and sulfur from the products.

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