Refining 101: How to Turn Texas Tea into Food for Your Car

Thank you again for last week’s feedback on our startups operations post! We hope we passed along some valuable lessons on operating a new venture out here in Houston. If any of you are interested in finding out more, please feel free to tweet us @rigbasket.

This week we pass the baton to a “friend of RigBasket” who has volunteered to give a quick Refining 101 course as a filler. Regardless of our focus on inventory waste elimination that may fundamentally change every asset-heavy balance sheet in the world, we will always continue to have a passion for the energy industry where we all started.

Without further delay, here is how refining works!

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear about Oil & Gas industry?

Perhaps you think of oil wells, offshore platforms, and hydraulic fracturing. We hear about barrels of crude oil being drilled out of the ground (Drill, Baby, Drill!). However, this black gold in its original state is worthless. Try feeding your car with raw, unpasteurized Texas Tea and it will probably kill your engine (and no, fermenting this tea and making a pot of kombucha won’t make it any better). To make this Texas Tea into food for your car, you have to clean it up. To do so, let’s explore the world of refining.

Part I: The Distillery
Crude oil is sent to a distillation column and separated into different cuts, or fractions. The lighter components in crude oil, are collected at the top of the distillation column and are then processed as LPGs or gasoline. Medium weight components, such as kerosene (jet fuel) and diesel, are collected in the middle of the column. The heaviest components sink to the bottom of the column and are routed for additional processing.

Part II: Let’s Get Cracking!

The hydrocarbon components at the bottom of the distillation column are too heavy to be used directly as transportation fuels. But why toss out a good product when it can be converted into fuels that we can actually use? With a combination of high temperature and high pressure, the hydrocarbons are cracked into lighter molecules which can be processed into gasoline or diesel. There are other processes in the refinery that rearrange the molecules in the different fractions – adding more hydrogen to some streams, removing hydrogen from other streams, in order to improve the quality of the products.

Part III: The Clean Up Crew
The different fractions of crude oil contain some impurities such as sulfur and nitrogen which can lead to air pollution. For safety purposes, refineries employ purification processes to “sweeten” the various fractions by removing sulfur, nitrogen, and other impurities. Once everything is cleaned up, various fractions are blended together to make the fuel products that we use in our everyday lives. Finally, you can feed that gallon of distilled, sweet Texas Tea to your car. How refreshing!

We hope that this quick overview into the world of refining has been helpful. Next time your car is hungry for fuel, you’ll know how it was made from the thick, heavy molasses of crude oil.

We’ve been travelling so much in the last week or so, and will work on another article soon!

The RigBasket Team

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