Refining Process Overview

Petroleum refining is the process of separating the many compounds present in crude oil by boiling the crude at different temperatures and using advanced methods to further process the crude into products such as gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil. The chemistry of hydrocarbons is the principle used in this process-the longer the carbon chain, the higher the temperature at which the compounds will boil.

Generally, crude petroleum is heated and changed into a gas. The hot gases are passed into the bottom of a distillation column and become cooler as they move up the height of the column. As the gases cool below their boiling point, they condense into a liquid. The liquids are then drawn off the distilling column at specific heights, ranging from heavy resides at the bottom, raw diesel fuels in the mid-sections, and raw gasoline at the top. These raw fractions are then processed further to make several different finished products.

Although all fractions of petroleum find uses, the greatest demand is for gasoline. One barrel of crude petroleum contains only 30-40% gasoline. Transportation demands require that over 50% of the crude oil be "converted" into gasoline. To meet this demand some petroleum fractions must be converted to gasoline. This may be done by cracking - breaking down large molecules of heavy heating oil and resides; reforming - changing molecular structures of low quality gasoline molecules; and isomerization - rearranging the atoms in a molecule so that the product has the same chemical formula but has a different structure, such as converting normal butane to isobutene.

CVR Refining’s petroleum refining operations consist of crude, vacuum, reforming and some hydrotreating capacity. The next level of complexity adds cat cracking and some additional hydrotreating. The most complex refineries add coking, more hydrotreating and hydrocracking. Coffeyville Resources' petroleum refining operations are complex and highly sophisticated, using advanced processing units capable of delayed thermal coking, catalytic cracking, isomerization, alkylation, and reforming.

Refining separates crude oil into components used for a variety of purposes, from high-performance fuels to plastics. Coffeyville Resources Refining & Marketing and Wynnewood Refining Company test refining products 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to assure consistent, high-quality products.

The Facts About Crude Oil

The refining process begins with crude oil. Crude oil is unrefined liquid petroleum, which ranges in color from yellow to black, and may have a paraffin, asphalt or mixed base. Crude oil is composed of thousands of different chemical compounds called hydrocarbons, all with different boiling points. For example, a typical crude oil may begin to boil at 104º F to produce petroleum gas used for heating and making plastics, and finish boiling at greater than 1112º F to produce residuals such as petroleum coke, asphalt and tar.

Crude oil is generally described as sweet or sour according to its sulfur content, and heavy or light according to its API Gravity. The API Gravity index is a relative measure of weight-the lower the number, the heavier the material; the higher the number, the lighter the material. While there are no exacting definitions for these types of crudes, a general rule of thumb is:

  • A heavy crude is less than 30ºAPI, while a light crude is greater than 30ºAPI.
  • If crude contains a sizable amount of sulfur or sulfur compounds, it is called sour crude; if it has little to no sulfur, it is sweet crude. Sour crude may contain 1% - 5% sulfur content, while sweet crudes will have less than 1% sulfur content.
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