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How does fractional distillation work?

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Quick Answer

Fractional distillation is a high-temperature process that separates liquids and gases from unrefined crude oil. According to experts at How Stuff Works, there is a variety of elements in crude oil that are of different weights, sizes and boiling points, so the distillation process requires several steps to separate all elements from the original fossil fuel.

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Full Answer

The fractional distillation process begins by heating crude oil with high-pressure steam to a temperature of 1,112 degrees. As vapors are separated from liquids, they rise into vapor chambers that have a network of trays and coolants that are designed to collect various elements. These gases interact with coolants as they rise to the top of the chamber. Each type of vapor is collected according to its weight and use and gets further refined into marketable products that we use every day.

According to experts at the informational site About, fractional distillation is used to produce gasoline from crude oil. Butane, methane, ethane and propane are produced during the cooling stages. Petroleum gas, which is used in heating and in the making of plastics, is also a by product of the fractional distillation process. Fractional distillation is responsible for the procurement of diesel, kerosene, lubrication oil and industrial fuels.

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