When people hear the word petroleum, they generally think of fuel for transport, be that cars, trucks, trains or aviation, as well as fuel for cooking and heating. In fact, petroleum has a vast range of uses, with roughly a quarter to a third going to create products outside of the transportation sector.
Crude oil is processed at a refinery where it’s converted into a range of petroleum products. While anywhere between 65-75% of the oil is processed into fuel, the remainder is processed into chemicals, a variety of plastics and synthetic rubber. Many of these products find their way into a surprising range of everyday products. Here are just some of the uses that petroleum products are put to.
Apart from products that are made from either 100% wool or cotton, most clothing we buy today contains products made from petroleum. Polyester is a synthetic fibre that finds its way into 60% of clothing worldwide.
As with clothing, polyester is used extensively in home furniture and soft furnishings, making the industry a significant consumer of petroleum products. Rugs that are made with synthetic fibres will generally use petroleum based fibres such as olefin or nylon. They may be used on their own or mixed with natural fibres such as wool or cotton for a blended effect.
Petroleum products are used widely in the cosmetics industry, not least in the manufacture of lipsticks. Paraffin wax is the chief petroleum product used in the industry because it has a melting point that’s close to the melting point of the human body. This means it’s easy to spread when it comes into contact with skin.
One of the most widely used medicines on the planet wouldn’t be possible without petroleum products. Used to treat pain and inflammation, it consists of benzene which is a hydrocarbon derived from petroleum.
Petroleum is helping to fuel the renewable energy industry, providing key products in the manufacture of solar panels. Petroleum derived plastics are also found in the solar cell parts that are used to convert sunlight into electrical energy.
Acrylic resin, a hydrocarbon petroleum product, is used to make dentures along with other materials such as porcelain, metal and nylon. This acrylic resin can be dyed to look more like a natural gum colour. Petroleum also has a role in keeping your teeth clean and healthy with its use in the production of toothpaste. It contains poloxamer 407, a common petroleum derivative that assists the dissolution of oil-based ingredients in water.
CDs and DVDs are manufactured from polycarbonate plastics which are a petroleum product. When compact discs were first created, petroleum-based lubricants were also needed to ensure that the disc spun smoothly.
While there is growing concern about the amount of plastic packaging that is manufactured and used across the world, petroleum in plastic manufacture has made much of modern life possible. Plastic packaging derived from petroleum products is used for a vast range of everyday uses, from shampoo to cosmetics and food containers.
An increasingly wide range of computer components use petroleum derived plastics. Plastics are used as insulation to protect computer parts against heat. They’re also used in polymer capacitors which conduct electricity. Some computer casings also contain plastics, and they are capable of creating complete electronic circuits.
From telephones to Broadband Hubs, televisions, radios and vacuum cleaners, petroleum derived plastics are used to create a vast range of electrical goods.
Petroleum derived products are used across the food industry. Chewing gum contains petroleum wax, and many products such as crisps and snacks make use of colourings and other additives that contain petroleum products. Mineral oil can be used to help keep packaged baked goods fresher for longer periods.
It’s no exaggeration to say that large parts of the modern world depend on petroleum products. The products listed here are just the tip of a very large iceberg. Remove petroleum products from the equation and wide-scale changes to how we live our lives would ultimately follow.
At SciMed, we are the UK’s leading supplier of scientific instrumentation. We help scientists, technicians and engineers solve a wide range of process and analytical challenges.
For more information or advice from our team of technical specialists please contact us.