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What is gasoline?

Gasoline, also known as petrol, is the most commonly used transport fuel. It is a highly volatile hydrocarbon derived from crude oil. In its natural state gasoline is a liquid with a strong solvent smell. Typically it is used to fuel internal combustion engines for cars, motorbikes, trucks, boats and other transport vehicles. Highly refined gasoline can be used as aviation fuel, referred to as aviation gasoline (avgas).

Gasoline varieties are distinguished by their octane rating. In most countries regular gasoline has a rating of 91 or 92 octane. Premium fuels usually have an octane rating between 94, 95 or 96. The top quality fuel for road vehicles are often referred to as “Ultimate” and generally have an octane rating of 98. These fuels often contain additives such as lubricants which reduce engine wear and increase engine efficiency.

How is gasoline used?

Gasoline is primarily consumed as a fuel for transportation. It is produced by refining crude oil in an oil refinery. A combination of pipelines and specially designed ‘petroleum tankers’ delivers the fuel to a ‘gas station’, also known as a ‘petrol station’, to be sold.

The gasoline is stored in underground tanks with attached pumping stations, referred to as ‘bowsers’ or ‘gas pumps’. Customers drive their vehicles up to the bowser and fill up their fuel tank. Alternatively, fuel can be pumped into a drum or other approved storage container. The fuel can then be transport and stored safely until it is needed or used for non-vehicle related applications.
Non-transport uses of petroleum include fuelling motorised equipment such as:
  • lawn mowers
  • chainsaws
  • compressors
  • electricity generators

Who uses gasoline?

Gasoline is used heavily across the globe. In 2007 global consumption exceeded 7.8 billion barrels of gasoline. The USA consumed 3.35 billion barrels of this, or slightly more than 40%. This makes the USA the biggest user of gasoline in the world. Their consumption was 7 times that of the next top consumer, China.
Chinese consumption was roughly 470 million barrels in 2007, slightly above 6% of the global total. The third largest user is Japan, with 373 million barrels or 4.75% of the global total. Other top consumers for 2007 were:

Mexico 271 million barrels (3.47% of global total)
Canada 264 million barrels (3.38% of global total)
Russia 245 million barrels (3.14% of global total)
Germany 180 million barrels (2.30% of global total)
United Kingdom 150 million barrels (1.92% of global total)
Iran 147 million barrels (1.88% of global total)
Saudi Arabia 126 million barrels (1.61% of global total)

Australia consumed 121 million barrels or 1.55% of the global total in 2007.

Where does gasoline come from?

Gasoline is not usually transported in large quantities for reasons of personal and environmental safety. Instead it is transported as crude oil and refined in the country of use. According to the BP Statistical Energy Review 2011, the top 10 crude-oil producers for 2010 were:
  • Russia, producing 12.9% of total global production
  • Saudi Arabia, producing 12.0% of total global production
  • USA, producing 8.7% of total global production
  • China, producing 5.2% of total global production
  • Iran, producing 5.2% of total global production
  • Canada, producing 4.2% of total global production
  • Mexico, producing 3.7% of total global production
  • Venezuela, producing 3.2% of total global production
  • Iraq producing 3.1% of total global production
  • Kuwait producing 3.1% of total global production

Interesting facts about gasoline:

  • Gasoline is a liquid, not a gas.
  • You will get better value for your money if you fill up with gasoline in the morning, while the fuel is at its coolest.
  • Edwin Drake produced gasoline as a by-product of distilling crude oil to produce kerosene, but it was discarded because he could find no use for it.
  • Gasoline was used to treat head lice long before it became a fuel source.

Extra References:

For more information, visit our Oil, Gas and Energy section.
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