How to Separate Crude Oil

by Jack Gerard; Updated September 26, 2017

Petroleum products are essential for a number of different industries. All of these products originate from crude oil, but before any of them can be used they must first be separated from the crude oil that is collected from the ground. Each of the carbon components that make up crude oil have different molecular structures, and each of these structures give them a unique molecular weight and boiling point. Because of this, crude oil can be separated into its molecular components using specialized equipment and sufficient heat.

Items you will need

  • Crude oil boiler
  • Fractional distillation tower
Step 1

Feed the crude oil into a boiler that heats up to 1200 degrees F, which causes the oil to boil and evaporate. The different components of the oil have different molecular weights and boiling points, so they will begin to evaporate at different times.

Step 2

Feed the superheated steam from the boiler into a device known as a fractional distillation column. The column has several different trays contained within it, each with a number of holes to allow the steam to pass through them. Heat each tray to just below the specific boiling point of the oil's different carbon chain components.

Step 3

As the steam passes through the holes in the trays, each component will cool and condense on its appropriate tray. When the steamed components condense, collect the liquid on the trays.

Step 4

Once condensed, either feed the liquids into condensers to cool them further before they are put into storage or place them in containers for additional processing in other parts of the oil refinery.

Tips

  • Regular maintenance should be performed on all oil refining equipment to keep it in proper and safe working order

About the Author

Born in West Virginia, Jack Gerard now lives in Kentucky. A writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience, he has written both articles and poetry for publication in magazines and online. A former nationally ranked sport fencer, Gerard also spent several years as a fencing coach and trainer.