Oil Refining: The Basics

Aaron Foyer

Refining Series

Global Refining |  Canadian Refineries | The Basics

Oil Refining: The Basics

Refineries are industrial plants that process crude oil and other raw materials into useful petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, and aviation fuel. The process of refining involves several stages, including distillation, cracking, and reforming.

Here’s a general overview of how refineries work:

  • Distillation: The first step in the refining process is to heat the crude oil in a distillation tower to separate it into different fractions based on their boiling points. Lighter fractions with lower boiling points, such as gasoline and propane, are separated at the top of the tower, while heavier fractions, such as diesel fuel and lubricating oil, are separated at the bottom.
  • Cracking: The heavier fractions from the distillation process are then processed further through a process called cracking. In this process, larger molecules are broken down into smaller ones by heating the oil in the presence of a catalyst. This produces lighter, more valuable products such as gasoline and jet fuel.
  • Reforming: Another process used in refineries is reforming. This involves breaking apart and rearranging the molecules in the heavy fractions to produce high-octane gasoline.
  • Treatment: The final step in the refining process is to treat the products with additives to improve their performance and meet regulatory requirements. For example, gasoline is treated with anti-knock agents to prevent engine knocking, while diesel fuel is treated with detergents to clean the engine.

Overall, refineries are complex facilities that employ a range of chemical and mechanical processes to turn crude oil into the products we use every day.