Despite all of our best efforts to move toward renewable sources of energy, oil is still the backbone of modern life. It provides fuel for transportation, heat for homes and businesses and petrochemicals that we use to make things like plastics and medicines. But to get those products, crude oil has to go through a process called refining.
This video takes you inside one of the most sophisticated refineries in North America, the Pine Bend Refinery in Minnesota. You'll learn that every barrel (42 gallons) of crude oil gets distilled into a variety of different products including gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil and even kerosene.
The science behind this magic is that crude oil is a mix of different chemical species. Each of these species has its own boiling point. The heaviest and thickest chemicals start to form steam first, and then as they travel up the distillation column their temperature decreases until they reach temperatures lower than their boiling points at which point they start to condense again and become liquids.
These liquids can then be collected and used as desired. Typically, they are used as fuel for cars and trucks, aviation fuel and industrial lubricants. But they can also be turned into other energy products like natural gas and liquefied petroleum gases (LPG) which are often used to cook food in restaurants and to heat homes.
Crude oil can be categorized as sweet or sour, depending on how much sulfur it contains. Excess sulfur is removed during the refining process because it forms sulfur oxides which contribute to air pollution.