Episode 187: What is crude oil and how do we turn it into useful products?

Have you ever wondered what crude oil is, and how we can make it into something useful? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.





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HOST: Crude oil is often a major factor in everything from economic growth to environmental disasters and foreign wars. So, what is crude oil and why is it such a big deal? On this week’s Energy Bite, Daniel Posen, a recent PhD graduate of Carnegie Mellon University has some answers.

DANIEL: Crude oil comes from the remnants of plant and animal matter. After millions of years under heat and pressure, these dead plants and animals were converted into liquid mixtures underground. These mixtures range from being light, watery and pale yellow, to heavy, black and tar-like. All types of crude oil are high in energy and can be converted into transportation fuels like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. Today, crude oil supplies over 30% of all our energy needs, more than any other energy source. Crude oil is also a building block for many chemicals and plastic products that we use every day.

HOST: How is crude oil turned into fuel and chemicals?

DANIEL: You’ve probably heard of oil refineries – their purpose is in the name.  Each oil refinery is designed to separate, or refine, the components of crude oil into different products based on their boiling points. Advanced refineries can do even more complex chemical engineering to make more of the valuable products, like gasoline. These refineries are enormous undertakings. They cost billions of dollar to build and can be as large as several hundred football fields.

HOST: Do you ever think about where your gasoline and plastic products come from? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.



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