Fuel oil (also known as heavy oil, marine fuel or furnace oil) is a
Small molecules like those in
Oil has many uses; it heats homes and businesses and fuels
Residual fuel oil is less useful because it is so
Use of residual fuel oil was more common in the past. It powered
Residual fuel's use in electrical generation has also decreased. In 1973, residual fuel oil produced 16.8% of the electricity in the US. By 1983, it had fallen to 6.2%, and as of 2005, electricity production from all forms of petroleum, including diesel and residual fuel, is only 3% of total production.[
Heavy fuel oils continue to be used in the boiler "lighting up" facility in many coal-fired power plants. This use is approximately analogous to using kindling to start a fire. Without performing this act it is difficult to begin the large-scale combustion process.
The chief drawback to residual fuel oil is its high initial viscosity, particularly in the case of No. 6 oil, which requires a correctly engineered system for storage, pumping, and burning. Though it is still usually lighter than water (with a specific gravity usually ranging from 0.95 to 1.03) it is much heavier and more viscous than No. 2 oil, kerosene, or gasoline. No. 6 oil must, in fact, be stored at around 38 °C (100 °F) heated to 65–120 °C (149–248 °F) before it can be easily pumped, and in cooler temperatures it can congeal into a tarry semisolid. The flash point of most blends of No. 6 oil is, incidentally, about 65 °C (149 °F). Attempting to pump high-viscosity oil at low temperatures was a frequent cause of damage to fuel lines, furnaces, and related equipment which were often designed for lighter fuels.
For comparison, BS 2869 Class G heavy fuel oil behaves in similar fashion, requiring storage at 40 °C (104 °F), pumping at around 50 °C (122 °F) and finalising for burning at around 90–120 °C (194–248 °F).
Most of the facilities which historically burned No. 6 or other residual oils were industrial plants and similar facilities constructed in the early or mid 20th century, or which had switched from coal to oil fuel during the same time period. In either case, residual oil was seen as a good prospect because it was cheap and readily available. Most of these facilities have subsequently been closed and demolished, or have replaced their fuel supplies with a simpler one such as gas or No. 2 oil. The high sulfur content of No. 6 oil—up to 3% by weight in some extreme cases—had a corrosive effect on many heating systems (which were usually designed without adequate corrosion protection in mind), shortening their lifespans and increasing the polluting effects. This was particularly the case in furnaces that were regularly shut down and allowed to go cold, since the internal condensation produced
Environmental cleanups at such facilities are frequently complicated by the use of
When released into water, such as a river or ocean, residual oil tends to break up into patches or tarballs—mixtures of oil and particulate matter such as silt and floating organic matter- rather than form a single slick. An average of about 5-10% of the material will evaporate within hours of the release, primarily the lighter hydrocarbon fractions. The remainder will then often sink to the bottom of the water column.