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Fuel Oil - History

About 1847, Pittsburgh resident Samuel Keir devised a way to distill petroleum into a lamp fuel which he called "carbon oil". The invention of the kerosene lamp in the mid 1850's led to the establishment of the first US oil company, the Pennsylvania Rock Oil Company. The American oil industry was born near Titusville in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859. There, Edwin L. Drake drilled the first commercially successful oil well in the United States. However, the first major oil company was the Standard Oil Company founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1870. Standard Oil built its first oil refinery in Pennsylvania, then later expanded its extensive operations nationwide.

Since the first introduction of petroleum as an illuminator, and its subsequent abundance and consequent cheapness, various attenipts had been made to use it for fuel as a substitute for coal, especially for the production of steam. The advantages and drawbacks were both easily comprehended. Among the first was the smaller space it occupies, with a lesser weight, and the ease with which it can be manipulated no grates, no ashes, no raking, etc. Instead of fire-men necessary to handle the solid lumps of coal, watch its combustion, and keep the furnace in proper condition by raking the fire, cleaning the ash-pit, etc., the combustion of a liquid fuel, stuch as petroleum, may be simply managed by varying the supply by proper stop-cocks, simply an occasional observation and regulation of the supply being sufficient, bringing nearer to the great desideratum all good inventions lead to: the abolition of all hard mechanical labor by human beings, to all of whom bountiful nature has not given such an abundant amount of brains for nothing, to be wasted while doing the labor that brainless animals or machinery can perform as well, if not better.

The drawbacks of the universal use of petroleum as a fuel, were, first, the trouble and labor connected with its transportation and storage while the solid coal can be loaded in open cars and duniped into heaps, the liquid petroleum must be stored antI transported in air-tight vessels, involving far more expense and investment of capital than is incident to the transportation and storage of coal. Another drawback is its great combustibility and consequent danger connected with having it stored in quantity, while coal is perfectly safe in this respect, so safe, indeed, that a burning match, or even a burning stick or piece of wood may safely be thrown on a heap of coal and will burn up without igniting the coal, while petroleum, and even sometimes its vapors, are so combustible that it is dangerous to come near them with any flame; these vapors, mixed with air, produce an explosive mixture. When once ignited, water will not extinguish petroieum, as it floats on top of it.

Thie first experiment was made about the year 1864 in one of the United States Navy Yards, either Brooklyn or Pidladelphia, where an engineer conceived the idea of placing a large number of kerosene lamps under a steam-boiler. He had observed the great heat given off by a kerosene lamp, and supposed that if only the number were large enough to fill the whole of the fire-room of a boiler furnace, they would raise steam. He overlooked the fact that the great heat produced by such a lamp does not extend farnot much beyond the chimney, and that to raise steam a long stream of burning or heated gases must be passed under the boiler and through the flues, and that only a sufficient mass of coal or other suitable material must be in a state of ignition, and the burning, aided by a draft, project a long stream of heat, which disperses itself where it is needed; while lamps only moderately heat the spot under which they are directly placed. A better idea was to project a continuous spray of petroleum over pieces of brick, and have them ignited and a blast passed between them. This was tried, however with doubtful success.

The next trial was at the Battery, New York, in 1865. The inventor burned a spray of petroleum which proceeded from perforated pipes, while two blasts, one a series of small air blasts and one a series of superheated steam blasts, aided the combustion. This worked far better, as it was able to drive the flames through the return flues. Since that time several trials have been made, but most all of them accepting the same plana fine spray of petroleum and a blast of air and of superheated steam. It was soon found, however, that the steam blast, while it aided to atomize the petroleum (that is, it aided powerfully to subdivide the jet into innumerable small drops like dust), it also reduced the temperature if it was not very highly superheated, so high indeed that it volatitalized the oil when it came in contact with it. It was also found that time amount of air required for perfect combustion was enormous, not less than 50 volumes of air for 1 volume of petroleum vapor. But this is no objectiou, as air costs nothing.

In regard to metallurgy, the problem was pretty well solved; polished sheet-iron and steel had been made with success and economy by means of petroleum as fuel, while for other metallurgical operations this would appear clear; but what was wanted was a good steaum-boiler furnace intended to use petroleum as fuel. It was found, by trying improvements in the methods referred to, that petroleum can be used with great advantage in place of coal for the manufacture of iron, steel, glass, etc., and that even if it costs $10 a barrel and coal $5 per ton, the advantage was altogether on thh side of petroleum to the amount of 50 per cent, while under steam-boilers 1 pound of oil will evaporate very nearly 15, 16 pounds or more of water. This very favorable result is no doubt due to the fact that the combustion of coal is naturally and necessarily more wasteful, while a liquid fuel can be burned with far more economy, provided only the right method has been devised.

In regard to other rival methods, by late 1878 one was at the United States Navy Yard in Brooklyn, and showed the invention to be dreadfully out of joint, as proved by the impractical and crude ideas on which it was based. By 1880 the art of burning petroleum as fuel, so as to obtain the maximum available heat, was still in its infancy.

By 1882 one observer claimed that the Russians were considerably ahead of America in the application of petroleum as fuel. They employed it successfully upon somue of their railways for driving loconlotives, using for this purpose the crude naphtha as it comes from the wells. Most of the steamers time plied the Caspian Sea used the liquid fuel, which was very much cheaper than coal. It was consumed with the injectors, and the combustion was regulated with the greatest ease. A number of advantages were claimed for the liquid fuel. The furnaces last longer on account of the absence of sulphur; there were no cinders, smoke or sparks; the work of the attendammts is greatly simplified, and the heating effect of the fuel considerably greater than that of wood or coal.

The Italian navy led the way in experimenting with oil starting in 1890, and by 1900 most of its torpedo boats were oil burning. By the early 1890s it was clear that naval minds were everywhere hardening on the question of coal-endurance. By 1893 some regarded the advent of liquid fuel to be close at hand, and as ships can be fuelled (Adm. P.H. Colomb of the Royaal Navy claimed to have coined this verb) at sea with liquid fuel when it would be impossible to take in coal, the hastening of that advent was a thing to be calculated on. With coal, the experience of such ships as the HMS Amphion, with a nominal extreme speed of 17 knots and a nominal coal endurance of 11,000 miles at 10 knots, on a displacement of 4,300 tons, appeared to give more satisfaction to the naval mind as a combination than the HMS Blenheim's 21.6-knot speed with 15,000 miles coal-endurance on a displacement of 9,000 tons. An Amphion would not be justified in running away from a Blenheim, so that the extra speed was not so far called for; and while the nominal 4,000 miles greater coal-endurance may be an advantage, it would seem to be much more than balanced by the displacement of the Blenheim. While, therefore, great stress must be laid on coal-endurance so long as coal is the fuel, it may be easy to overdo it in sacrificing other elements.

Oil offered many benefits compared to coal. With twice the thermal content of coal, boilers could be smaller and ships could travel further at greater speed. Oil burned with less smoke, so the location of the fleet would not be so readily compromised. Oil could be stored in tanks anywhere on the ship, allowing more efficient designs. Oil could be transferred through pipes without reliance on stokers, reducing manning. Refueling at sea was feasible, which provided greater operational flexibility. When coal fired boilers are compared with oil fired ones, the biggest differences exist in the combustion equipment. As oil can be combusted in burners of rather simple design, extensive equipment is needed in combustion of coal. In the rest of the boiler, however, there are only a few minor differences in design between boilers fired with solid fuels and those fired with oil. One major difference is that generally more combustion air is needed with solid fuels than with oil, which leads to bigger amounts of flue gases and also to a bigger boiler volume. To turn it the other way round, with a given boiler a bigger output is obtained by oil firing than by coal firing, presuming that combustion of both is possible. The US Navy had conducted significant experiments with oil as fuel almost continuously after 1864. George Wallace Melville, a graduate of Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute, worked in the engineering field until July 1861, when he joined the Navy in the rank of Third Assistant Engineer. In August 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Commodore Melville as the Navy's First Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering. He rapidly realized the urgent need for the establishment of a test and evaluation station where naval machinery and components could undergo examination and trial for reliability before being placed aboard Navy ships. Submitting a Congressional request for funds to establish an experiment station and test laboratory, Melville's arguments finally convinced Congress to authorize a modest $400,000 for the buildings and equipment which became the US Naval Engineering Experiment Station when it was completed in 1908.

During his administration of over 16 years, Melville superintended the design of 120 ships of the "New Navy" and introduced such widely acclaimed innovations as the water tube boiler, vertical engines, and the repair ship. Promoted to Rear Admiral (RADM) in 1899, Melville was appointed Engineer in Chief of the Navy in 1900. Melville worked to create an oil-burning fleet.

The mixed-firing method of spraying oil on coal was routine by the early 1900s. By 1900 natural gas still provided a significant amount of illumination and some heating. Coal and fuel oil provided most of the energy for heating of homes and offices in cities. Wood was still the dominant source of heat energy in rural areas.

The Royal Navy laid down [Dec 05], built [Dec 05-Oct 06], and commissioned [Dec 06] the first all big-gun battleship, HMS Dreadnought, which revolutionized naval architecture (in spite of the fact that the US Navy already had the USS South Carolina class approved in 1905, they were not laid down until December 1906, hence, the failure to complete in a timely manner gave Dreadnought the honors). This opened up a frantic naval construction race between all of the great naval powers, since all of their ships were now obsolete. HMS Dreadnought mounted 10x12-inch naval rifles in five dual barbettes, three on the center line and one on each side of the forward structure, giving her an 8-gun broadside; she turned 21-knots max. with a radius of operations of 6600 miles at 10 kts and 5000 at 19 kts; her power plant was a hybrid in as much as she burned both coal and oil. The transition by the Royal Navy from coal to oil was stimulated by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill and Admiral Sir John (Jacky) Fisher. The Royal Navy had already adopted oil for submarines and destroyers, as had the American Navy. When Churchill went to Whitehall in 1911, coal was still the primary source of power for naval vessels. Ordered in 1912 to outmaneuver and cross the T of the German fleet, the Queen Elizabeth-class battleships were built to burn oil only. Once this decision was made, it followed that the rest of the Royal Navy would turn to oil. This technological change was a great success, and every navy soon switched to oil. An extensive investigation of petroleum as fuel by the Liquid Fuel Board in 1902-03 proved tremendously important to the entire naval and commercial world. The Board recommended using oil as a standalone fuel in 1904. The first oil-burning American destroyer, USS Paulding, was commissioned in 1910. The BB-34 New York Class battleships, laid down in 1911, were the first US Navy battleships armed with 14-inch guns, and the last to be built with more than four main battery turrets, intermediate weight side armor and coal-fired boilers. The BB-36 Nevada Class were the last US Navy battleships to have reciprocating engines, and the last to have two propellers. At the same time they were the first of the ships to carry fourteen-inch guns, and the US Navy's first to have oil as their primary fuel. The US Navy began to establish fuel oil depots in 1910 to supply the needs of submarines and destroyers. Its first fuel oil facilities were located on the East Coast at Key West, Charleston, Norfolk, and Narragansett Bay.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:56:57 ZULU