A Quick Look at the Major Diverging Points Between Conventional Oil and Synthetic Oil
Conventional oil is naturally occurring crude oil which contains sulfur, nitrogen, and trace metals along with hydrogen and carbon. Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is manufactured using artificially modified chemicals with a synthetic base material. Both these products have some advantages and disadvantages which have kept the global conventional oil market in a state of flux.
If there was one natural resource which has been the most sought, most used, and most traded, it would be oil. Conventional oil replaced coal as the major source of energy generation in the mid-1900s and has been the most used fossil fuel since then. Almost all manufacturing industries run on the power generated using conventional oil. Naturally, the global conventional oil market is huge; a report published by Research Dive, a market research company, states that the global conventional oil market was worth $2,494 billion in 2021 and is expected to cross $4,690.2 billion by 2031.
Conventional Oil Vs Synthetic Oil: Major Differences
Conventional oil is basically a hydrocarbon that has been produced due to decomposition and application of extreme pressures on organic material trapped inside the earth’s surface for millions of years. Crude oil thus formed contains, along with hydrogen and carbon, other elements such as sulfur, nitrogen, and some trace metals. Conventional oil is generally extracted using advanced equipment like drills and then processed for further use. Depending on the type of elements or compounds present (apart from hydrocarbons) in it, crude oil is classified as light crude, heavy crude, sour crude, sweet crude, liquid condensate, etc. Light crude is crude oil which has a high proportion of hydrocarbons, while heavy crude has a higher proportion of heavy metals. Sour crude oil contains sulfur in a considerable amount, while sweet crude has minimal sulfur content. Liquid condensate is a type of crude oil which contains a high amount of natural gas. Thus, depending upon the composition and type, the viscosity and density of the unprocessed crude oil changes.
Synthetic oil, on the other hand, is a lubricant that is manufactured using artificially synthesized chemical compounds. Thus, even though the base compound in synthetic oil is crude oil, the compound undergoes several chemical processes which essentially break down the petroleum molecule and rebuild it. In some cases, as in full synthetic oils, even the base stock used is a synthetic compound instead of crude oil.
Over the years, the demand and usage of synthetic oil vis-a-vis conventional oil has increased. A study conducted by the American Automobile Association has shown that synthetic oil performed better than conventional crude oil on metric such as oxidation resistance, temperature pumpability, oxidation-induced viscosity changes, etc. In fact, of all the tests conducted, synthetic oil performed better in around 45-47% of the tests than crude oil. Synthetic oil, in these tests, showed greater resistance to chemical degradation and better performance at extreme temperatures (both extreme hot and extreme cold). Moreover, these tests demonstrated that beyond a certain range of cold temperatures, conventional crude oil became so thick that it became difficult for the engine to pump them thus affecting its circulation. All in all, these tests show that synthetic oil is a better fuel compared to conventional oil in extreme weather conditions.
However, conventional oils, despite their inherent disadvantages, have some basic benefits over their synthetic counterparts. Firstly, despite having undergone different purification processes, synthetic oils didn’t outperform conventional crude oils on several crucial performance indicators. In fact, in certain tests such as additive precipitation test, it was seen that synthetic oil was more prone to additive precipitation leading to separation from oil. Also, synthetic oils had a lower fuel economy than conventional crude oils, especially on highway speeds. But the most glaring disadvantage of synthetic oil is that of the cost. Since synthetic oil manufacturers must subject mineral oil to different processes for bettering its quality, the end price of the product increases naturally. Synthetic oil, as a result, is around three to four times more expensive compared to conventional crude oil. Moreover, almost all automobiles that are manufactured today are compatible with conventional oil, provided it has passed certain standard tests.
The Research Dive report, which was quoted earlier, highlights the fact that synthetic oils may restrain the growth and popularity of conventional oils. However, the report specifically points out the fact that in the past few years, the demand for conventional oil as automobile engine oil has in fact grown. Moreover, with the pandemic subsiding and global supply chains getting operational, resource-rich countries in Latin America and Middle East are expected to ramp up their oil production which ultimately will increase the usage of crude oil in various end-use industries. Hence, despite certain disadvantages, conventional oil seems to dominate over synthetic oil in the current market scenario.
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