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Chemistry Assignment

These are the main topics that are discussed in the assignment:
 Fractional distillation of crude oil/petroleum
 Major fractions of petroleum process
 Trends of fractions
 Cracking process
 Major types of cracking process

Fractional distillation of crude oil/petroleum

First of all, what is fractional distillation? Fractional distillation is a separation technique used to
separate different substances in a liquid by their different boiling points.
So why is fractional distillation used in fuel industries? The fossil fuels coal, petroleum and
natural gas all contain hydrocarbons. We cannot use petroleum as a fuel because it is a sticky
black liquid that is difficult to set alight. Because of that, fuel industries use fractional distillation
to separate the hydrocarbon molecules in petroleum into groups that have similar boiling points,
and then obtain the fractions to use them as fuels. The process of obtaining fractions is as

1. It is first heated so that all the hydrocarbons are present as gases.

2. The petroleum is then fed into a tall tower called a fractionating column.
3. The column is kept hot at the bottom (about 350 degrees Celsius) but it is cooler at the
top. So there is a range of temperatures in the column.
4. Near the bottom of the column those hydrocarbons with higher boiling points condense
and get collected. Hydrocarbons with lower boiling points are still gases. These move
further up the column. As they move up the column, each hydrocarbon condenses at
the point where the temperature in the column falls just below the boiling point of the
5. This process continues until only the lightest hydrocarbons, those of one to four carbon
atoms, are left. These stay in gas form and are collected at the very top of the tower.

Major fractions of petroleum process

The list below shows the major fractions of petroleum process:

 Refinery gas (under 40 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected at the very
top of the tower. It consists of gases such as methane, ethane, propane and butane. It
is used for heating and cooking.
 Gasoline (40~100 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected between
refinery gas and naphtha. Another name for it is petrol, and it is mainly used as fuel for
 Naphtha (80~180 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected between
gasoline and kerosene. It is used to make chemicals, especially plastics.
 Kerosene (160~250 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected between
naphtha and diesel oil. It is also called as paraffin, and it is used as fuel for jet aircraft
and heating.
 Diesel oil (250~300 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected between
kerosene and fuel oil. It is light gas-oil and it is used as fuel for lorries and tractors.
 Fuel oil (350~500 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected between diesel
oil and residue. It is heavy gas-oil and it is used as fuel for power stations, ships, and
 Residue (above 500 degrees Celsius): It is the fraction which is collected at the very
bottom of the tower. It can further be divided into several groups such as lubricating oil
and bitumen. Lubricating oil is used as lubricants, waxes and polishes. Bitumen is
used to make road surfaces and sealing roofs.
Trends of fractions

The fractions obtained from the petroleum have different physical and chemical properties. The
fractions with higher boiling points:
 have more carbon atoms
 have higher molecular weights
 are more branched chain alkanes
 are darker in colour
 are more viscous/thicker
 are more difficult to ignite and to burn

Cracking process

Before describing the process, I will first define what the term ‘cracking’ means in chemistry.
Cracking is the thermal decomposition of alkanes.
All the fractions we get from the distillation of petroleum are useful. However, some are more
useful than others – there is a greater demand for them. We use more gasoline and diesel than
can be supplied by the fractional distillation. To meet the demand, oil companies break down
larger hydrocarbons into smaller, more useful hydrocarbons (by breaking carbon-carbon bonds)
– this is where cracking is used. From the cracking, we not only get shorter-chained alkanes
which are useful for petrol, we also get alkenes. Alkenes are very useful for making a variety of
chemicals including plastics.
During the process, a catalyst is often used to increase the rate of cracking.

The process of cracking is as follows:

1. The vapour fro the gas-oil or kerosene fractions is passed through a catalyst of silicon
(IV) oxide and aluminium oxide at 400~500 degrees Celsius.
2. The catalyst is continuously recycled to the catalytic cracker through a regenerator
tank as it is a fine powder, and there is a chance of getting deposited.
3. This process goes on until long-chained alkanes are broken into short-chained alkanes.

Major types of cracking process

 Thermal cracking: Thermal cracking is a process in which hydrocarbons such as crude

oil are subjected with high heat and pressure to break the molecular bonds and reduce
the molecular weight of the substance being cracked. This process is used to extract
useable extracts known as fractions which are released during the cracking process.
Modern high-pressure thermal cracking operates at absolute pressures of about
7000kPa, at the temperature of 400~460 degrees Celsius.

 Catalytic cracking: Fluid catalytic cracking is commonly used to obtain fractions of

crude oil. Today, cracking takes place using a very active zeolite-based catalyst in a
short contact time vertical or upward sloped pipe called the ‘riser’. Pre-heated feed is
sprayed into the riser via feed nozzles where it contacts extremely hot fluidised catalyst
at 665~760 degrees Celsius. The hot catalyst vaporises the feed and catalyses the
cracking reactions that break down high molecular weight oil into lighter components
such as gasoline.