Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage,
combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The word Kerosene was registered as a
trademark by Abraham Gesner in 1854 and for several years only the North
American Gas Light Company and the Downer Company (to which Gesner had
granted the right) were allowed to call their lamp oil kerosene. It
eventually became genericized.
It is usually called paraffin (sometimes paraffin oil) in the UK and
South Africa (not to be confused with the waxy solid also called
paraffin wax or just paraffin, or the much more viscous paraffin oil
used as a laxative); the term kerosene is usual in much of Canada, the
United States, Australia (where it is usually referred to colloquially
as kero) and New Zealand.
Kerosene is widely used to power jet-engined aircraft (Jet fuel) and
some rockets, but is also commonly used as a heating fuel and for fire
toys such as poi.
typically stored in a blue (or blue labeled) container
The heat of combustion of Kerosene is similar to that of diesel: its
Lower Heating Value is around 18,500 Btu/lb, or 43.1 MJ/kg, and its
Higher Heating Value is 46.2MJ/kg.
Kerosene is a thin, clear liquid formed from hydrocarbons, with density
of 0.78-0.81g/cm3. Kerosene is obtained from the fractional distillation
of petroleum between 150 °C and 275 °C, resulting in a mixture of carbon
chains containing 12 to 15 carbon atoms.
Kerosene was first described by al-Razi (Rhazes) as a distillation of
petroleum in 9th-century Baghdad. In his Kitab al-Asrar (Book of
Secrets), he described two methods for the production of kerosene. One
method involved using clay as an absorbent, whereas the other method
involved using ammonium chloride (sal ammoniac).
In 1846 Canadian geologist Abraham Gesner gave a public demonstration in
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island of a new process he had discovered.
He heated coal in a retort and distilled from it a clear, thin fluid
which he showed made an excellent lamp fuel. He coined the name
"Kerosene" for his fuel, a contraction of keroselaion, meaning wax-oil.
The cost of extracting kerosene from coal was, however, high.
Fortunately, Gesner recalled from his extensive knowledge of New
Brunswick's geology a naturally-occurring asphaltum called Albertite. He
was however blocked from using it by the New Brunswick coal conglomerate
because they had coal extraction rights for the province and he lost a
court case when their experts claimed that Albertite was in fact a form
of coal. Gesner subsequently moved to Newton Creek, Long Island, USA, in
1854, where he secured the backing of a group of businessmen. They
formed the North American Gas Light Company, to which he assigned his
patents. Despite clear priority of discovery, Gesner did not obtain his
first kerosene patent until 1854, two years after James Young's US
patent. Gesner's method of purifying the distillation products appears
to have been superior to Young's, resulting in a cleaner and better
smelling fuel. Manufacture of kerosene under the Gesner patents began in
New York in 1854 and later in Boston, being distilled from bituminous
coal and oil shale.
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In 1848 Scottish chemist James Young experimented with oil discovered
seeping in a coal mine as a source of lubricating oil and illuminating
fuel. When the seep became exhausted he experimented with the dry
distillation of coal, especially the resinous "Boghead coal"
(Torbanite). He extracted a number of useful liquids from it, one of
which he named "paraffine oil" because at low temperatures it congealed
into a substance resembling paraffin wax. Young took out a patent on his
process and the resulting products in 1850, and built the first truly
commercial oil-works in the world at Bathgate in 1851, using oil
extracted from locally-mined Torbanite, shale, and bituminous coal. In
1852 he took out a US patent for the same invention. These patents were
subsequently upheld in both countries in a series of lawsuits and other
producers were obliged to pay him royalties. See also coal oil.
In 1851 Samuel Martin Kier began selling kerosene to local miners, under
the name "Carbon Oil". He distilled this by a process of his own
invention from crude oil. He also invented a new lamp to burn his
product. He has been dubbed the Grandfather of the American Oil Industry
by historians. Since the 1840s, Kier's salt wells were becoming fouled
with petroleum. At first, Kier simply dumped the useless oil into the
nearby Pennsylvania Main Line Canal, but later he began experimenting
with several distillates of the crude oil along with a chemist from
Ignacy Lukasiewicz, a Polish pharmacist residing in Lvov had been
experimenting with different kerosene distillation techniques, trying to
improve on Gesner's process, using local seep oil. Many people knew of
his work but paid little attention to it. On the night of July 31 1853,
doctors at the local hospital needed to perform an emergency operation,
virtually impossible by candlelight. They therefore sent a messenger for
Luka and his new lamps. The lamp burned so brightly and cleanly that the
hospital officials ordered several examples plus a large supply of fuel.
Luka realized the potential of his work and quit the pharmacy to find a
business partner and then travelled to Vienna to register his technique
with the government. Lukasiewicz moved to the Gorlice region of Poland
in 1854 and sank several wells across southern Poland over the following
decade, setting up a refinery near Jasło in 1859.
The widespread availability of cheaper kerosene was the principal factor
in the precipitous decline in the whaling industry in the
mid–to–late–19th–century, as the leading product of whaling was oil for
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As a fuel
Heating and Lighting
Fuels for heating
At one time the fuel was widely used in
kerosene lamps and lanterns. While replacing whale oil, it was
considered as "explosive as gunpowder." - the 1873 edition of Elements
of Chemistry notes that "The vapor of this substance [kerosene] mixed
with air is as explosive as gunpowder." This may have been due to the
common practice of adulterating kerosene with other, more volatile
hydrocarbons, such as the cheaper benzene. Kerosene was also a fire
risk; in 1880, 39% of New York City fires were caused by defective
kerosene lamps.These were superseded by the electric light bulb and
flashlights powered by dry cell batteries.
Its use as a cooking fuel is mostly restricted to some portable stoves
for backpackers and to less developed countries, where it is usually
less refined and contains impurities and even debris.
As a heating fuel, it is often used in portable stoves, and is sold in
some filling stations. It is sometimes used as a heat source during
power failures. The use of portable kerosene heaters is not recommended
for closed indoor areas without a chimney due to the danger of build-up
of carbon monoxide gas.
Kerosene is widely used in Japan as a home heating fuel for portable and
installed kerosene heaters. In Japan, kerosene can be readily bought at
any filling station or be delivered to homes.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland kerosene is often used as a heating
fuel in areas that are unconnected to the gas pipeline network. It is
used less for cooking, which has more commonly been LPG for some decades
now, owing to its easier lighting.
The Amish, who limit use of electric appliances for religious reasons,
rely on kerosene for lighting and often purchase kerosene-powered
versions of appliances such as refrigerators.
More ubiquitous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, kerosene
space heaters were often built into kitchen ranges and kept many farm
and fishing families warm and dry through the winter. At one time citrus
growers used smudge pots fueled by kerosene to create a pall of thick
smoke over a grove in an effort to prevent freezing temperatures from
damaging crops. Salamanders are kerosene space heaters used on
construction sites to dry out building materials and to warm workers.
Before the days of blinking electrically lighted road barriers, highway
construction zones were marked at night by kerosene fired pot-bellied
torches. Most of these uses of kerosene created thick black smoke
because of the low temperature of combustion.
A notable exception, discovered in the early 19th century, is the use of
a mantle above the wick on a kerosene lamp. Looking like a delicate
woven bag above the woven cotton wick, the mantle was a residue of
mineral material (thorium dioxide) which glowed white hot as it burned
the volatile gases emanating from the blue flame at the base of the
wick. These types of lamps are still in use today in areas of the world
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In the mid-20th century, kerosene or TVO (Tractor Vaporising Oil) was
used as a cheap fuel for tractors. The engine would start on gasoline,
then switch over to kerosene once the engine warmed up. A heat valve on
the manifold would route the exhaust gases around the intake pipe,
heating the kerosene to the point where it can be ignited by an
Today kerosene is mainly used in fuel for jet engines (more technically
Avtur, Jet A, Jet A-1, Jet B, JP-4, JP-5, JP-7 or JP-8). One form of the
fuel known as RP-1 is burned with liquid oxygen as rocket fuel. These
fuel grade kerosenes meet specifications for smoke points and freeze
points. In the initial phase of lift off the Saturn V launch vehicle was
powered by the reaction of liquid oxygen with kerosene. The reaction can
be approximated as follows, with the molecular formula C12H26:
C12H26(l) + 37/2 O2(g) → 12 CO2(g) + 13 H2O(g); ∆H˚ = -7513 kJ
The reaction generates an average 1.62 x 1011 watts (J/s) or 217 million
Kerosene is sometimes used as an additive in diesel fuel to prevent
gelling or waxing in cold temperatures.
Ultra-low sulfur kerosene is a custom-blended fuel used by the New York
City Transit to power its bus fleet. The transit agency started using
this fuel in 2004, prior to the widespread adoption of ultra-low sulfur
diesel, which has since become the standard. In 2008, the suppliers of
the custom fuel failed to tender for a renewal of the transit agency's
contract, leading to a negotiated contract at a significantly increased
In countries such as India and Japan, kerosene is the main fuel used for
cooking, especially by the poor. Kerosene stoves have replaced
traditional wood-based cooking appliances. The price of kerosene can be
a major political and environmental issue; the Indian government
subsidizes the fuel to keep the price very low (around 15 cents/liter as
of Feb. 2007). Lower prices discourage dismantling of forests for
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Kerosene is often used in the entertainment industry for fire
performances such as poi and fire dancing, because of its low flame
temperature when burnt in free air, reducing the risk, should the
performer come in contact with the flame. Kerosene is not usually used
as a fuel for indoor fire-dancing as it produces an unpleasant odour
which becomes poisonous in sufficient concentration. Methanol is often
used instead, but it also produces less impressive flames, and it can be
a more dangerous fuel because of its lower flash point.
Kerosene has been used to treat pools of standing water to prevent
mosquitoes from breeding, notably in the yellow fever outbreak of 1905
in New Orleans.
It can be used to remove lice from hair, but this practice is painful
and potentially very dangerous. Also, this practice removes all natural
oils and fats from the scalp.
Since kerosene is chemically stable, it is used to store substances with
redox tendencies within to prevent unwanted reactions, such as alkali
It is used in the packaging and storing of white phosphorus to prevent
contact with oxygen, which would lead to immediate combustion.
Kerosene can be used to store crystals. When a hydrated crystal is left
in air, dehydration may occur slowly. This makes the color of the
crystal become dull. Kerosene can keep air from the crystal.
It is used as a solvent.
Kerosene can be applied topically to hard-to-remove mucilage or adhesive
left by stickers on a glass surface (such as in show windows of stores).
Kerosene can be used to remove candle wax that has dripped onto a glass
surface; it is recommended that the excess wax be scraped off prior to
applying kerosene via a soaked cloth or tissue paper.
Kerosene can be used to clean bicycle and motorcycle chains of old
lubricant before relubrication.
It can be used in conjunction with cutting oil as a thread cutting and
reaming lubricant. When machining aluminium and its alloys, kerosene on
its own is an excellent cutting lubricant.