Although very valuable, petroleum in its natural state has few uses. After crude oil has been extracted from the ground, it is generally transported to a refinery, where it is heated and distilled into more usable products. Most of these are various types of fuel, which are themselves often used in the composition of still other products.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the most common refined product is gasoline, the bulk of which is used to fuel internal combustion engines, such as those found in automobiles.
A slightly heavier product, diesel fuel is also used in certain types of internal combustion engines, and is superior to gasoline in its fuel economy and its ease of combustion, as well as, if properly refined, its emissions.
Crude oil can also be refined into many industrial solvents--like benzene, toluene and xylene--used for the cleaning of machine parts.
Kerosene has many uses, including heating, lighting and the propulsion of jets. Although different than standard jet fuel, it is superior in several ways, including its higher freeze point. It can also be easily blended into diesel fuel.
Heating oil is a low-viscosity fuel commonly used in boilers and furnaces. According to the Energy Information Administration, about one-quarter of all crude oil is converted to heating oil.
Liquified Petroleum Gas
Various kinds of liquefied petroleum gas--like propane and butane--are commonly used as fuels in outdoor grills and other portable appliances. They can also be used to manufacture other petrochemicals.
Some of the heaviest fuels, which remain after most other fuels have been distilled, are residual fuels. These viscous fuels are used to power heavy machinery in boats, power plants and factories.
Coke is a reside left after all the usual fuels have been distilled from the crude. It can be used as a form of charcoal briquette or in the manufacture of electrodes and dry cells.
Asphalt, a byproduct of crude oil, is a black, molasses-like substance used primarily in the construction of roads, where is acts as a binding agent for hard particles.
Also known as mineral oils, lubricants are high-viscosity derivatives of crude used to reduce the friction between moving parts. There are a number of different types of petroleum-based lubricants, organized into three different categories based on their base chemical--paraffinic, naphthenic and aromatic.
Michael Wolfe has been writing and editing since 2005, with a background including both business and creative writing. He has worked as a reporter for a community newspaper in New York City and a federal policy newsletter in Washington, D.C. Wolfe holds a B.A. in art history and is a resident of Brooklyn, N.Y.