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When and how did kerosene begin being produced?

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enotes | Valedictorian

Posted March 3, 2014 at 11:17 PM via web

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When and how did kerosene begin being produced?

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ncchemist | eNotes Employee

Posted March 8, 2014 at 7:11 PM (Answer #1)

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Kerosine is not a single, specific chemical compound.  It is a term for members of the hydrocarbon family (compounds consisting only of carbon and hydrogen) than contain between 6 and 16 carbon atoms bonded together in a chain-like structure.  Most of the molecules are linear in nature (both branched and unbranched), with a smaller percentage being cyclic or aromatic.

Kerosine is produced from crude oil and shale.  Crude oil consists of a wide variety of hydrocarbons, and the larger ones can be chemically "cracked", or broken down, to produce smaller hydrocarbons like those found in gasoline and kerosine.  These different families of hydrocarbons can be separated by a method called fractional distilliation, or a distillation process that takes place through a large column that can separate the different chemicals based on their differing boiling points.

Historically, kerosine has been most commonly used for burning in lamps and heaters.  It is heavier and thicker than other liquid petroleum distillates, thus making it easier to handle with less ignitable vapors and therefore less of an explosion hazard.  Although the distilling of oil has been known for centuries, the production of kerosine on an industrial level did not come about until the mid-19th century.  Canadian Abraham Gesner extracted kerosine from coal and later moved to the northeastern US to found the North American Gas Light Company which produced kerosine from bituminous coal and oil shale.  At nearly the same time, James Young in Scotland was producing kerosine from the distillation of a type of coal called torbanite.  Finally, Samuel Martin Kier in Pennsylvania began producing kerosine used for mining lamps from crude oil.  All of this production began in the 1840's and 1850's.

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