Uses of Petroleum

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Petroleum Products and Its Uses: A Comprehensive Study

Petroleum i.e. crude oil is a naturally occurring liquid that is refined to prepare products like gasoline i.e. petrol, diesel fuel, jet fuel, home heating oil, lubricating oil, wax, asphalt, and many other useful products. The word petroleum originates from Latin, where “petra” means rock and “oleum” means oil. Petroleum also includes natural gas which has similar chemistry to crude oil. Transportation and power generation are the two major uses of petroleum. Chemicals obtained from the refining of crude oil and the processing of natural gas are used by the petrochemical industry to produce petrochemicals like synthetic rubber, fertilizers, plastic, latex paints, drugs, synthetic fibres, and explosives.

Properties of Petroleum

Crude oil can appear very fluid, volatile liquids and also viscous, semisolid materials. It is usually black or black with a greenish tinge in colour. Sometimes it can be reddish, greenish-yellow, light yellow, or transparent. Natural gas is a colourless and odourless gas.

Petroleum majorly contains alkanes and also cyclohexanes, aromatic hydrocarbons and more complex hydrocarbons such as asphaltenes. Carbon and hydrogen are the two basic constituent elements of petroleum. Crude oils vary greatly in their chemical composition due to the combination of the above elements in various complex ways. 

The properties of petroleum, such as viscosity, density, boiling point, and colour may vary extensively.  Heavier fractions like asphaltene contain greater metal concentration than saturated and aromatic fractions. Nitrogen and sulfur can be present in traces in light petroleum with an increase for heavier or extra-heavy crude oil.

The Basic Composition of Petroleum:


84 to 87%


11 to 14%


0.06 to 2%


0.1 to 2%


0.1 to 0.2%


0 to 0.14%

What is Petroleum Used For?

Transportation: To date, petroleum is the basic source of energy used in transportation. Petroleum accounts for two-thirds of the total transportation fuel globally. Gasoline/petrol, diesel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), jet fuel, and marine fuel are the major transportation fuels obtained from petroleum. Cars, motorcycles, light trucks, buses, trains, boats and ships use gasoline or diesel. Jet aeroplanes and some types of helicopters often use kerosene.

Power generation: A thermal power plant uses petroleum for electricity generation. Although coal is the major source of electricity generation, petroleum also accounts for significant power generation that eventually results in serious environmental pollution. 

Apart from these two uses of petroleum, the fuel has other industrial applications too. 

These are:

Lubricants: Almost all industries use lubricants for the proper functioning of machinery. Lubricants reduce friction in vehicles and industrial machines. However, they are even used in cooking, bio-applications on humans, ultrasound and medical examinations. 

Pharmaceuticals: Certain by-products like mineral oil and petrolatum are used in the manufacture of topical medicines. The complex organic molecules used in pharmaceuticals are linked to simple organic molecules of petroleum byproducts.

Agriculture: Ammonia, which is a source of nitrogen in agricultural fertilizers, is manufactured from petroleum using Haber’s process. Moreover, a lot of pesticides are produced from petroleum. Machinery for ploughing etc also works on petroleum. 

Chemical industry: The raw materials of many chemical companies are by-products of a petroleum refinery. Chemical fertilizers, synthetic fibres, insecticides, synthetic rubber, nylon, plastics, pesticides, perfumes, dyes, paints etc are the significant products produced using the major by-products like naphtha, grease, petroleum jelly, wax, butadiene etc.

Domestic uses: Household products like detergents, vaseline, wax etc are by-products derived from petroleum. Kerosene is used in many countries for cooking, lighting and other domestic purposes.  

Different Types of Petroleum Products and Their Applications

Let us look into the examples of petroleum products obtained from petroleum:-


  • Gasoline

  • Kerosene

  • Liquefied natural gas

  • Liquefied petroleum gas

  • Butane

  • Diesel fuel

  • Fuel oil

  • Propane

Other Products

  • Paraffin wax

  • Petroleum jelly

  • Petroleum wax

  • Microcrystalline wax

  • Napalm

  • Naphtha

  • Naphthalene

  • Refined asphalt

  • Refined bitumen

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Fractional distillation column of Crude oil

Some Petroleum Products and their Uses:-


Gaseous products obtained from the refinery are hydrogen, fuel gas, ethane, propane, and butane. Propane and butane are collectively known as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), which is a portable and suitable fuel for light industrial use and domestic heating (cooking).


Gasoline uses include application in internal combustion engines, commonly used in private and commercial vehicles.


It is commonly used in trucks, buses and public transport, locomotives, farm and heavy equipment. Diesel has greater energy and power density than gasoline.


It is used extensively globally in cooking and space heating. It is also the basic fuel for modern jet engines. 

Fuel oil

It can be used as a power source of lamps, heaters, stoves, engines and lanterns typically at home in furnaces and boilers. The machinery of farming, mining or quarrying machinery or even bunkering ships uses fuel oil.

Other petroleum products

Naphtha is used to manufacture solvents for paints, cosmetics, commercial dry cleaning etc. Paper manufacture and foodstuffs use wax.

Asphaltic bitumen is employed in the construction of roads and airfields and the manufacture of roofing felts, waterproof papers, pipeline coatings, and electrical insulation. 

Decomposing liquid hydrocarbon fractions make carbon black which is compounded with rubber in tire manufacture and used in printing inks and lacquers.

Did You Know?

One of the ancient civilizations, the Sumerians, discovered petroleum on the banks of the River Euphrates and used it for various purposes like road-building and waterproofing.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Mention the Chemical Composition of Crude Oil and Natural Gas.

Ans: Crude oil comprises a mixture of thousands of hydrocarbon molecules with 5 to more than 60 carbons. The molecules vary from straight chains, circles, to chains with side chains. Shorter hydrocarbon molecules have low viscosity and vice versa.

At surface temperature and pressure, natural gas has a composition of hydrocarbon with one, two, three, and four carbons i.e., (CH4) methane, (C2H6) ethane, (C3H8) propane and (C4H10) butane. Typically natural gas is composed of 88% methane, 5% ethane, 2 percent propane, and 1% butane.

2. What are the Common Five Uses of Oil?

Ans: In modern civilization, oil plays a significant role in major sectors like:

Fuel: Gasoline is the major energy for transportation, agriculture and industries. Kerosene is important for domestic purposes.

Plastics: Crude oil is refined and subjected to high heat in combination with another treated material to create the polymers.

Clothing: Significant fibres like spandex, polyester, nylon and vegan leather are petroleum-based.

Toiletries: Beauty products and toiletries like soap, lotion, toothpaste, shaving cream, shampoo, and deodorant use propylene glycol and crylates from petroleum.

Gum: Any product that is gum-based includes petroleum and waxes.