Diesel is a historical anomaly. For decades it was thrown away like an unwanted byproduct. It wasn’t until Rudolf Diesel designed the first engine capable of using this byproduct that the fuel was seen as a resource. This post will go over the development of diesel fuel and discuss how it came to dominate the commercial and industrial sectors today.
Origin of diesel fuel
The first oil refinery was built in 1851 in Scotland and used primarily to extract paraffin for oil lamps. Eventually, kerosene was a common by-product that replaced paraffin. Diesel was also a common byproduct but was frequently discarded because there was no use for it. In fact, it wasn’t given its name until 1894 when Rudolph Diesel invented the first engine that could use it. Before that, it was called distillate.
Unfortunately, Rudolph Diesel was murdered in 1913. Some historians speculate that because of his engine design, several coal magnates entered into a conspiracy to kill him and prevent the spread of his creation.
Trains and diesel engines
The first locomotives were based on steam-engine designs in the 1800s. This didn’t stop railroad companies from experimenting with other forms of fuel, including peanut oil. Trains were the most efficient way to move commercial goods, especially coal. As trains developed, they got bigger and faster, requiring larger engines and higher temperatures. Coal would dominate the locomotive industry until the first diesel engines were made in the late 1800s. These ultimately came to rule the industry in the early 1900s.
The diesel engine
Diesel fuel was a revolution because it was the first fuel that didn’t need to be externally ignited (i.e., you didn’t have to light it on fire like coal). The diesel engine design, which is still used today, compresses the liquid to extreme pressures to cause it to ignite. The combustion moves the piston and causes the motor to activate. The engine could be used for smaller vehicles like cars and trucks, but eventually, it was increased in size to accommodate large loads. Tractors, trains, and ships were using diesel engines within 20 years.
How diesel fuel is made
Diesel fuel is derived from crude oil, which is extracted from the ground through wells and offshore rigs. The crude oil is sent to refineries, where it is turned into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and other extracts. This resource is created through the distillation process. The oil is heated and the vapors are captured in another tank to condense into a new liquid. The different vapors heat at varying temperatures and are caught in separate tanks, resulting in different types of fuel. This process continues as various distillates are captured and cooled.
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