Fuel oil

An oil tanker taking on fuel, or "bunkering"

Fuel oil (also known as heavy oil, marine fuel or furnace oil) is a fraction obtained from petroleum distillation, either as a distillate or a residue. In general terms, fuel oil is any liquid fuel that is burned in a furnace or boiler for the generation of heat or used in an engine for the generation of power, except oils having a flash point of approximately 42 °C (108 °F) and oils burned in cotton or wool-wick burners. Fuel oil is made of long hydrocarbon chains, particularly alkanes, cycloalkanes and aromatics. The term fuel oil is also used in a stricter sense to refer only to the heaviest commercial fuel that can be obtained from crude oil, i.e., heavier than gasoline and naphtha.

Small molecules like those in propane, naphtha, gasoline for cars, and jet fuel have relatively low boiling points, and they are removed at the start of the fractional distillation process. Heavier petroleum products like Diesel and lubricating oil are much less volatile and distill out more slowly, while bunker oil is literally the bottom of the barrel; in oil distilling, the only things denser than bunker fuel are carbon black feedstock and bituminous residue (asphalt), which is used for paving roads and sealing roofs.


Uses

A fuel station in Zigui County on the Yangtze River
HAZMAT class 3 fuel oil

Oil has many uses; it heats homes and businesses and fuels trucks, ships and some cars. A small amount of electricity is produced by diesel, but it is more polluting and more expensive than natural gas. It is often used as a backup fuel for peaking power plants in case the supply of natural gas is interrupted or as the main fuel for small electrical generators. In Europe, the use of diesel is generally restricted to cars (about 40%), SUVs (about 90%), and trucks and buses (over 99%). The market for home heating using fuel oil, called heating oil, has decreased due to the widespread penetration of natural gas as well as heat pumps. However, it is very common in some areas, such as the Northeastern United States.

Fuel oil truck making a delivery in North Carolina, 1945

Residual fuel oil is less useful because it is so viscous that it has to be heated with a special heating system before use and it may contain relatively high amounts of pollutants, particularly sulfur, which forms sulfur dioxide upon combustion. However, its undesirable properties make it very cheap. In fact, it is the cheapest liquid fuel available. Since it requires heating before use, residual fuel oil cannot be used in road vehicles, boats or small ships, as the heating equipment takes up valuable space and makes the vehicle heavier. Heating the oil is also a delicate procedure, which is impractical on small, fast moving vehicles. However, power plants and large ships are able to use residual fuel oil.

Use of residual fuel oil was more common in the past. It powered boilers, railroad steam locomotives, and steamships. Locomotives, however, have become powered by diesel or electric power; steamships are not as common as they were previously due to their higher operating costs (most LNG carriers use steam plants, as "boil-off" gas emitted from the cargo can be used as a fuel source); and most boilers now use heating oil or natural gas. Some industrial boilers still use it and so do some old buildings, including in New York City. In 2011 The City estimated that the 1% of its buildings that burned fuel oils No. 4 and No. 6 were responsible for 86% of the soot pollution generated by all buildings in the city. New York made the phase out of these fuel grades part of its environmental plan, PlaNYC, because of concerns for the health effects caused by fine particulates,[1] and all buildings using fuel oil No. 6 had been converted to less polluting fuel by the end of 2015.[2]

Residual fuel's use in electrical generation has also decreased. In 1973, residual fuel oil produced 16.8% of the electricity in the US. By 1983, it had fallen to 6.2%, and as of 2005, electricity production from all forms of petroleum, including diesel and residual fuel, is only 3% of total production.[citation needed] The decline is the result of price competition with natural gas and environmental restrictions on emissions. For power plants, the costs of heating the oil, extra pollution control and additional maintenance required after burning it often outweigh the low cost of the fuel. Burning fuel oil, particularly residual fuel oil, produces uniformly higher carbon dioxide emissions than natural gas.[3]

Heavy fuel oils continue to be used in the boiler "lighting up" facility in many coal-fired power plants. This use is approximately analogous to using kindling to start a fire. Without performing this act it is difficult to begin the large-scale combustion process.

The chief drawback to residual fuel oil is its high initial viscosity, particularly in the case of No. 6 oil, which requires a correctly engineered system for storage, pumping, and burning. Though it is still usually lighter than water (with a specific gravity usually ranging from 0.95 to 1.03) it is much heavier and more viscous than No. 2 oil, kerosene, or gasoline. No. 6 oil must, in fact, be stored at around 38 °C (100 °F) heated to 65–120 °C (149–248 °F) before it can be easily pumped, and in cooler temperatures it can congeal into a tarry semisolid. The flash point of most blends of No. 6 oil is, incidentally, about 150 °F (66 °C). Attempting to pump high-viscosity oil at low temperatures was a frequent cause of damage to fuel lines, furnaces, and related equipment which were often designed for lighter fuels.

For comparison, BS 2869 Class G heavy fuel oil behaves in similar fashion, requiring storage at 40 °C (104 °F), pumping at around 50 °C (122 °F) and finalising for burning at around 90–120 °C (194–248 °F).

Most of the facilities which historically burned No. 6 or other residual oils were industrial plants and similar facilities constructed in the early or mid 20th century, or which had switched from coal to oil fuel during the same time period. In either case, residual oil was seen as a good prospect because it was cheap and readily available. Most of these facilities have subsequently been closed and demolished, or have replaced their fuel supplies with a simpler one such as gas or No. 2 oil. The high sulfur content of No. 6 oil—up to 3% by weight in some extreme cases—had a corrosive effect on many heating systems (which were usually designed without adequate corrosion protection in mind), shortening their lifespans and increasing the polluting effects. This was particularly the case in furnaces that were regularly shut down and allowed to go cold, since the internal condensation produced sulfuric acid.

Environmental cleanups at such facilities are frequently complicated by the use of asbestos insulation on the fuel feed lines. No. 6 oil is very persistent, and does not degrade rapidly. Its viscosity and stickiness also make remediation of underground contamination very difficult, since these properties reduce the effectiveness of methods such as air stripping.

When released into water, such as a river or ocean, residual oil tends to break up into patches or tarballs—mixtures of oil and particulate matter such as silt and floating organic matter- rather than form a single slick. An average of about 5-10% of the material will evaporate within hours of the release, primarily the lighter hydrocarbon fractions. The remainder will then often sink to the bottom of the water column.

Other Languages
العربية: زيت الوقود
català: Fueloil
Deutsch: Schweröl
español: Fueloil
euskara: Fuel olio
français: Fioul
Gaeilge: Ola (breosla)
galego: Fuel
hrvatski: Loživa ulja
Bahasa Indonesia: Minyak bakar
lietuvių: Fuel-oil
Nederlands: Stookolie
日本語: 重油
norsk: Tungolje
norsk nynorsk: Semidiesel
português: Óleo combustível
Simple English: Fuel oil
slovenščina: Kurilno olje
српски / srpski: Ulje za loženje
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Loživa ulja
svenska: Tjockolja
தமிழ்: எரிநெய்
Türkçe: Fuel oil
Yorùbá: Fuel oil
中文: 重油