Petroleum in the Modern Car

Petroleum, or petrol for short, is purchased and used in vast quantities every day by billions of people, but how much do you know about it? This short article aims to clarify some of the facts about petroleum and other types of fuels used in modern day vehicles.
There are many different names used for the substance that makes our vehicles move. The term petrol (short for the raw petroleum) has been used in the English language since the sixteenth century. It was first used to refer to the refined product we know as petrol in 1892 when it was registered as a trade name by a British wholesaler.

How is Petroleum made?

Petroleum is one of many products that can be made from crude oil. Once the crude oil has been extracted from the earth and transported to a refinery it can then begin the process of being turned into petrol.The process of separating out the useful elements of crude oil is called fractional distillation. During this process the crude oil is steadily heated to higher temperatures in a furnace and separation of the elements begins to occur. At certain temperatures a gas is produced, this gas can be taken away and fed into cooling chambers where it turns back into a liquid. Petroleum has a low boiling point so it is the first to turn to a gas, this happens at about 150°C. Kerosene, used to fuel jet engines and a heating fuel, is next to turn into a gas and this happens at about 200°C. The next product to be made is Diesel and this turns into a gas at 300°C. Finally above 370°C fuel oil is produced as well as asphalt, paraffin wax and lubricating oils.This however is not the end of the process, it is enhanced with iso octane, aromatic hydrocarbons, toluene and benzene all of which help to improve its octane rating. Petroleum does also require some additives to help improve performance and reduce harmful emissions.

What is an Octane Rating of petroleum and why is it important?

The octane rating or antiknock rating is a measure of a petroleum's ability not to cause knocking when ignited in a mixture of air inside the engine cylinder. Petroleum should burn in a progressive, controlled manner in the cylinder. Knocking is the premature ignition of the fuel in the cylinder, the shock wave caused by this irregular ignition causes pressure waves within the engine, this causes the engine to vibrate which creates an audible knock.The higher petrol's octane rating the more resistant it is to knocking. High performance petroleum's have higher octane ratings than standard fuels. Unfortunately they do cost more at the pump; however they do offer higher performance benefits. Not all engines are suitable to use the higher octane ratings so check your manufacturers guidelines as to which fuel you should be using.

Unleaded and Super Unleaded Petroleum

Unleaded and super unleaded petroleum is sold with many different brand names; however the basic premise is virtually the same.Unleaded petroleum was a much needed replacement for leaded petroleum. Leaded petroleum contained a certain amount of lead to stop knocking from the engine. However the harmful exhaust fumes in busy cities was causing high levels of lead in the air at street level and this needed to be addressed. Unleaded fuel has a lower octane rating than leaded fuel so was more susceptible to knocking and so to stop this happening, unleaded fuel has a number of additives to avoid this problem. Super unleaded petroleum contains additives which are aimed at engines that have been specifically set up for its use. More modern cars and high performance vehicles can use this fuel but you should really consult your vehicles handbook before using it. Super unleaded or premium petroleum has a number of additives which aim to produce cleaner emissions from your engine, clean your engine which in turn will make it more efficient and finally increase power output. All these claims sound very tempting but you will pay a lot more at the pump for these fuels, whether they make a difference is still up for debate?

Diesel Petroleum

Diesel is the most popular alternative to unleaded petrol. Diesel used to be a poor cousin in relation to petrol; this made it cheaper to buy. However diesel engines were noisy, dirty and not very fast. As engines and technology advanced they became more efficient, quieter and more powerful and this made cars using diesel fuel much more appealing. Diesel has more energy in it per gallon then unleaded petrol and this explains why it has greater fuel efficiency over petrol. Diesel powered cars tend to need more regular service intervals than petrol and the costs can be a little higher. Yet with advances in technology this may improve further still?Diesel is branded in two guises, regular and performance and both are marketed in the same way as unleaded petroleum with the benefits between them being the same as unleaded fuel. Diesel has come a long way in a short time, who would ever have thought we would see a diesel powered car winning consistently at Le Mans over recent years.

Alternatives to Petroleum

There are many alternative fuels that are trying to tempt us away from the internal combustion engine and the use of petroleum. However at this time there does not seem to be a real long term, cost effective alternative. We all appreciate that something has to be done to help conserve our environment and our finite reserves. The cost of motoring at this present time is really hurting the motorist in the UK with taxes at a premium, but as we do have a long lasting love affair with our cars, what are the alternatives?Electric cars using batteries or fuel cells are really starting to become viable options for some motorists. Short journeys can easily be made, in even the worst performing vehicles. Although charging them up is not a trivial thing and still reliability has yet to be proven. Cost is also a big factor as the investment made by the car companies is recouped in the retail price, so until prices are reduced, incentives increased or the range improved, adoption will be quite slow. One emerging solution to this issue is the creation of hybrid vehicles. These vehicles use a blend of battery power and a regular combustion engine to power the vehicle; this increases the number of miles the vehicle can achieve. The system works by using the petrol or diesel engine for bursts of power when requested by the driver or when the battery runs down. The electric part will be used at lower speeds which are mostly in towns and cities which is great for the environment and your wallet.Another technology being widely adopted is called stop start. This technology automatically cuts the engine when the vehicle is not moving, when the accelerator is pressed to move, the engine is restarted. This is, once again great for the environment but as this feature can be manually switched off it could be seen as a cheeky way of vehicle manufacturers making them more appealing to consumers. This is because it lowers the vehicles CO2 emissions; it puts the vehicle in a lower road tax bracket and so boosts the manufacturers green credentials. Bio fuels are another alternative fuel which is attracting attention. Bio ethanol is one alternative and this is made by fermenting the sugar components of plant material. This process produces an ethanol substance which can be used in its pure form but it is typically added to petroleum to increase octane and reduce emissions. Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats or recycled greases. Biodiesel can be used as a fuel for vehicles in its pure form, but it is usually used as a diesel additive to reduce levels of particulates, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons from diesel-powered vehicles. Biodiesel is produced from oils or fats using transesterification and is the most common bio fuel in Europe. Unfortunately these fuels are not commonly available and only usable once your existing vehicle has been modified. The cost of doing this may not be a viable option for most vehicles.
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