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What is Gasoline?

Gasoline is one of the most widely used commodities in the world, gasoline is a byproduct of the petroleum industry and is used primarily to fuel cars.

Commercial refineries employ many different methods to produce gasoline, but the most common is a method known as “cracking.” Initially, refineries used thermal cracking, where heat and pressure were utilized to break down hydrocarbon molecules into lighter molecules. However, over time, catalytic cracking—where catalysts are used to produce chemical reactions in petroleum to create gasoline—has replaced thermal cracking. Other methods to refine gasoline include polymerization, alkylation, and isomerization.

The gasoline obtained at refineries is a pale brown or semi-transparent low-density liquid that has a strong odor, is highly flammable and evaporates easily. It consists of over 150 different chemicals including benzene toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene (together called the BTEX compounds).

The majority of gasoline produced in oil plants is sent to gas stations via pipelines. While pipelines are the most efficient way to transport a liquid that evaporates quickly, some of the gasoline being sent may get mixed with other products. Furthermore, several brands from different refineries—with varying additives—are often combined when transporting gasoline through the pipelines. This is why gasoline is tested both at the beginning of the pipeline and at the end point.

 The end of the pipeline usually is a storage terminal near consumer areas, from where gasoline is loaded into trucks for transport to gas stations. At gas stations, consumers can finally purchase gasoline to power their cars.

The gasoline that is used in cars is often boosted with additional lubricants, anti-rust agents and anti-icing agents in small quantities. In the United States, almost all gasoline contains ethanol as an oxygenating agent. Gasoline is available at stations in three grades: regular, midgrade and premium. These grades vary in octane levels, and consequently, in price.

Despite its wide use, gasoline has raised several environmental concerns because of the greenhouse gases it produces. It also poses a health risk owing to its carcinogenic elements. As the world’s energy needs continue to expand even in the face of global warming, many organizations and consumers are looking to replace gasoline with alternative energy sources. However, such alternative energy sources are not currently in use at a large scale—which leaves gasoline as the undisputed king of transport fuels.

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