An oil is any neutral, nonpolar chemical substance, that is a viscous liquid at ambient temperatures, and is immiscible with water but soluble in alcohols or ethers. Oils have a high carbon and hydrogen content and are usually flammable and slippery. Oils may be animal, vegetable, or petrochemical in origin, and may be volatile or non-volatile.
First attested in English 1176, the word oil comes from Old French "oile", from Latin "oleum", which in turn comes from the Greek "ἔλαιον" (elaion), "olive oil, oil" and that from "ἐλαία" (elaia), "olive tree". The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek e-ra-wo, written in Linear B syllabic script.
Organic oils are produced in remarkable diversity by plants, animals, and other organisms through natural metabolic processes. Lipid is the scientific term for the fatty acids, steroids and similar chemicals often found in the oils produced by living things, while oil refers to an overall mixture of chemicals. Organic oils may also contain chemicals other than lipids, including proteins, waxes and alkaloids.
Lipids can be classified by the way that they are made by an organism, their chemical structure and their limited solubility in water compared to oils. They have a high carbon and hydrogen content and are considerably lacking in oxygen compared to other organic compounds and minerals; they tend to be relatively nonpolar molecules, but may include both polar and nonpolar regions as in the case of phospholipids and steroids.
Crude oil, or petroleum, and its refined components, collectively termed petrochemicals, are crucial resources in the modern economy. Crude oil originates from ancient fossilized organic materials, such as zooplankton and algae, which geochemical processes convert into oil. The name is a misnomer, in that minerals are not the source of the oil - ancient plants and animals are. Mineral oil is organic. However, it is classified as "mineral oil" instead of as "organic oil" because its organic origin is remote (and was unknown at the time of its discovery), and because it is obtained in the vicinity of rocks, underground traps, and sands. Mineral oil also refers to several specific distillates of crude oil.
Oils are commonly used as lubricants. Mineral oils are more commonly used as machine lubricants than biological oils are. Whale oil is preferred for lubricating clocks, because it does not evaporate, leaving dust, although its use was banned in 1980. As no suitable substitute is available, whale oil is still used in space (in small quantities).
Some oils burn in liquid or aerosol form, generating light, and heat which can be used directly or converted into other forms of energy such as electricity or mechanical work. To obtain many fuel oils, crude oil is pumped from the ground and is shipped via oil tanker or a pipeline to an oil refinery. There, it is converted from crude oil to diesel fuel (petrodiesel), ethane (and other short-chain alkanes), fuel oils (heaviest of commercial fuels, used in ships/furnaces), gasoline (petrol), jet fuel, kerosene, benzene (historically), and liquefied petroleum gas. A 42 gallon barrel (U.S.) of crude oil produces approximately 10 gallons of diesel, 4 gallons of jet fuel, 19 gallons of gasoline, 7 gallons of other products, 3 gallons split between heavy fuel oil and liquified petroleum gases, and 2 gallons of heating oil. The total production of a barrel of crude into various products results in an increase to 45 gallons. Not all oils used as fuels are mineral oils, see biodiesel and vegetable oil fuel.
Crude oil can be refined into a wide variety of component hydrocarbons. Petrochemicals are the refined components of crude oil and the chemical products made from them. They are used as detergents, fertilizers, medicines, paints, plastics, synthetic fibers, and synthetic rubber.
Organic oils are another important chemical feedstock, especially in green chemistry.
- Cooking oil
- Emulsifier, a chemical which allows oil and water to mix
- Wax, a class of compounds with oil-like properties that are solid at common temperatures
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- Petroleum Online e-Learning resource from IHRDC