This section is from the book "A Practical Treatise On Friction, Lubrication, Fats And Oils", by Emil F. Dieterichs. Also available from Amazon: A practical treatise on friction, lubrication, fats and oils.
Looking over the history of the petroleum industry during the last decade there appears little to be recorded as new. The text books on the subject consist of products of compilations of facts long known and a chaos of suggestions for new procedures of little commercial value.
The latest and most elaborate work published in the German language, in 1913, by Engler, under the title "Das Erdoel" contains numberless reports on laboratory investigations and experiments, comments, and some of the many patents taken out here and abroad, but nothing strictly new that has not been forestalled some years ago by the elaborate researches and compilations by Sir Boverton Redwood published in England, the best information on the subject so far.
For many years it was supposed that petroleum oil could only be looked for in certain localities where it was easily obtained from deposits near the surface of the soil. Now with the greater facilities for drilling to great depths, petroleum and gas have been found in many other localities, often at from two to three hundred feet underground, and it appears that oil and gas are stored almost anywhere at still greater depths.
Wherever in the bowels of the earth in prehistoric times vegetation and animal life existed and have for times inmemorable been left to decay and transformation underneath overlying strata, the mysterious work of nature appears to have changed them into deposits of gas and oil. Petroleum oil represents an endless series of compounds of hydrogen and carbon, the hydrogen predominating in the composition of the compounds of lighter specific gravity, and carbon in the heavier ones.
When petroleum is subjected to heat for its distillation, we separate its component parts from each other, those of lighter specific gravity being only followed by those of heavier specific gravity. Each different product of distillation when again subjected to distillation by itself, yields again compounds of lighter specific gravities and compounds of heavier ones. The distillation is carried on in various styles of apparatus, and different ways of operation, more or less known, or kept secret by corporations and individual refiners and manufacturers. There has been very little systematic study of the petroleum industry. Its exploitation has been a wanton struggle only for the wealth to be obtained from it.
For commercial purposes we obtain by the distillation of petroleum oils: Benzine, gasoline, naptha, burning oils, lubricating oils, paraffine wax, and coke. Of all these products the burning oils became first of commercial value, and the demand for them superseding the use of tallow and wax candles for illumination, the efforts for greater improvements in the distilling process for their production were thereby much stimulated.
The energetic motive power of petroleum oils and gasoline having been discovered and applied to gas engines and automobiles, much of the steam power used for industrial purposes has been displaced by it, and the demand for gasoline has so enormously increased that the greatest efforts are at present being made for its increased production from petroleum oils. Numerous suggestions have been made, but with slight success so far, as it appears that from crude petroleum of a given degree of specific gravity only so much output of light hydrocarbon compounds can be obtained as the oil naturally possesses and no more; and it seems to be a fact that more output from heavier distillates can only be produced if an equivalent amount of hydrogen from outside sources can be fundamentally incorporated with the heavier grades of the distillation. An increased supply of gasoline is now obtained by the process of compression of natural gas into the liquid state, natural gas also finding much useful application for heating and cooking purposes.
Burning oils are also employed for the production of motive power for internal combustion engines, but they do not possess as high explosive characteristics as the lighter hydrocarbon products (gasoline, naptha), and many attempts have been made for improvement by admixtures of peroxide of hydrogen, nitro-benzol and other chemicals.
As to the formation of new crude oil compounds by destructive distillation of distillates of petroleum oils under great heat and pressure, and obtaining therefrom an increased supply of gasoline, it appears to be a modification of the cracking process only. The so-called cracking process during distillation of petroleum oils as a means to increase the production of gasoline owes its origin to the fact that by the prevailing methods of too hurried distillation, irregular application of heat from coal fire and the too limited conducting power of the arising vapors to the condensing coils, a certain amount of back pressure on the vapors is produced which causes a portion of the developed vapors to be forced back into the bulk of the boiling oil. When distillation is then interrupted and the heat reduced, the vapors that have been forced back by the back pressure and held in suspension in the oil are again raised at their proper temperature and condensed, to be added to the out-put of gasoline first obtained, the whole amount being in exact proportion to the amount of light hydrocarbon of the specific gravity of gasoline naturally contained in the oil.
The full amount of gasoline procurable from a given amount of petroleum oil is obtainable by distillation with slow and steady increase of the temperature produced by gas or fuel oil firing, and in a vessel with wide open surface connected with an overlaying large condenser with opening of equal size of said vessel, and so constructed inside as to permit of the rapid and free access of the arising vapors to condense on its water-cooled sides and prevent the falling back of any portion of them into the boiling oil.
Destructive distillation in connection with the nascent formation of hydrogen in the same apparatus connected with the condenser as above described, has been suggested, but has thus far not been successfully carried out on a commercial scale.
Little improvement in the production of lubricating oils that has not long been known, has been recorded, the manufacture of these oils has much increased and a great deal of attention is given to so control the distillation as to retain paraffin wax in an amorphous state as viscosity in the oil.
Distillation with the admission of steam into the still naturally increases the yield of lubricating oil as thereby the hydrocarbons are not broken down by decomposition from contact with the hot iron of the still.
The only record of progress in the line of lubricating oils is the introduction of the so-called "Valve Oleum Oils" invented and patented by the author. By the process of their manufacture the fatty acids of the fatty oils are fixed to a metallic base, being thereby deprived of their injurious action on the metal of which machinery is constructed. Readily dissolving in petroleum oils, they impart to them the viscosity necessary for thorough lubrication, and join their valuable lubricating power with the excellent diffusing power of the petroleum lubricating oils.
Much improvement has been made in the production of paraffine wax whose application in the industrial world has much increased, and new improved machinery displacing the older methods in use has been advantageously introduced. Impecunious inventors are getting no encouragement to secure their rights by United States patents. They waste their time and energy and their limited means on their invention ana to, secure it by a patent, to be left to the costly course of detecting infringers and prosecuting them through lengthy court proceedings, while wealthy unscrupulous corporations and piratically inclined individuals can through subsidized information and at the cost of a few cents per copy obtain from the patent office a full description of the invention.
It has been justly said that the great corporations and the individuals who made their enormous wealth of the petroleum industry never developed a new process or gave the trade a new idea, as is done by individual progressive men.
The claim to be able to change the characteristics of the petroleum oils so as to produce from them aniline oils seems to be chimerical. With judicious use of the forces of nature we can change water into ice, we can harness the power of electricity, can control fire and water to our service, we can secure iron from its ore; but we cannot make iron or change it into copper, or zinc into gold. We are only men, the most presumptuous animals in the universe; but we cannot be creators.