Kerosene is an oil distillate commonly used as a fuel or solvent. It is a thin, clear liquid consisting of a mixture of hydrocarbons that boil between 302°F and 527°F (150°C and 275°C). While kerosene can be extracted from coal, oil shale, and wood, it is primarily derived from refined petroleum. Before electric lights became popular, kerosene was widely used in oil lamps and was one of the most important refinery products. Today kerosene is primarily used as a heating oil, as fuel in jet engines, and as a solvent for prays.
Petroleum byproducts have been used since ancient times as adhesives and water proofing agents. Over 2,000 years ago, Arabian scientists explored ways to distill petroleum into individual components that could be used for specialized purposes. As new uses were discovered, demand for petroleum increased. Kerosene was discovered in 1853 by Abraham Gesner. A British physician, Gesner developed a process to extract the inflammable liquid from asphalt, a waxy petroleum mixture. The term kerosene is, in fact, derived from the Greek word for wax. Sometimes spelled kerosine or kerosiene, it is also called coal oil because of its asphalt origins.
Kerosene was an important commodity in the days before electric lighting and it was the first material to be chemically extracted on a large commercial scale. Mass refinement of kerosene and other petroleum products actually began in 1859 when oil was discovered in the United States. An entire industry evolved to develop oil drilling and purification techniques. Kerosene continued to be the most important refinery product throughout the late 1890s and early 1900s. It was surpassed by gasoline in the 1920s with the increasing popularity of the internal combustion engine. Other uses were found for kerosene after the demise of oil lamps, and today it is primarily used in residential heating and as a fuel additive. In the late 1990s, annual production of kerosene had grown to approximately 1 billion gal (3.8 billion 1) in the United States alone.
Kerosene is extracted from a mixture of petroleum chemicals found deep within the earth. This mixture consists of oil, rocks, water, and other contaminates in subterranean reservoirs made of porous layers of sandstone and carbonate rock. The oil itself is derived from decayed organisms that were buried along with the sediments of early geological eras. Over tens of millions of years, this organic residue was converted to petroleum by a pair of complex chemical processes known as diagenesis and catagensis. Diagenesis, which occurs below 122°F (50°C), involves both microbial activity and chemical reactions such as dehydration, condensation, cyclization, and polymerization. Catagenesis occurs between 122°F and 392°F (50°C and 200°C) and involves thermocatalytic cracking, decarboxylation, and hydrogen disproportionation. The combination of these complex reactions creates the hydrocarbon mixture known as petroleum.