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What Are the Different Uses of Paraffin Oil?

Some oil lamps use paraffin oil.
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  • Written By: Ray Hawk
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 25 November 2014
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Paraffin oil, which is referred to as kerosene in the US and Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, is a type of petroleum-based fuel commonly used in aircraft, where it is called jet fuel. It is produced at two different energy density levels with the C1, or lighter version, being used for engines in aircraft, outboard motors for watercraft, and other machines. The C2 type of paraffin oil is used in oil lamps for heating and as a stove oil.

When paraffin oil is used as a jet fuel, it is further broken down into variants depending on the needs of the aircraft, and can be labeled as Jet A, Jet A-1, and Jet B, or JP-4 to JP-8. Jet A and Jet A-1 are the most common types of paraffin oil used in commercial aircraft with turbine-powered engines, and Jet B is substituted in cold weather environments. Jet-4 and Jet-5 fuels are mixtures of paraffin oil and gasoline, or other inflammable liquid hydrocarbons such as napthene, for use in both US Air Force and US Navy aircraft respectively. JP-7 is used in supersonic aircraft and JP-8 is used by North-Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military aircraft. One other type of paraffin oil jet fuel, designated as RP-1, is often mixed with liquid oxygen to fuel rockets.

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One of the advantages that paraffin oil or kerosene has over conventional gasoline both as an aviation fuel and, in other conventional uses, is that it has a higher flash point than gasoline does. This makes it less flammable and easier to store, with the decreased risk of fire putting it more on par with diesel fuel. Kerosene stoves are often promoted in western countries as convenient and portable devices to take on camping trips, as the fuel is relatively safe to transport, and, in developing nations such as India, it is the main cooking fuel used by rural populations.

As one of the oldest petroleum-based fuels around, paraffin oil was first discovered in 1853 by Abraham Gesner, a Canadian physician and geologist. His discovery is credited with starting the world's commercial exploitation of petroleum. Early on, it was used as a common fuel for lighting sources, before electric lighting became widespread. Kerosene was soon adapted as an industrial lubricant and an industrial solvent in paints and varnishes as well, and in insecticides used to kill mosquitoes.

The refining of paraffin oil dominated the petroleum industry for about 60 years. In the 1920s, mass production of automobile internal combustion engines that were built to run on gasoline quickly overtook the industry. Even though it soon became limited in value as a lighting or fuel source, by the 1990s, the US was still producing 1,000,000,000 gallons (3,785,411,784 liters) of paraffin oil annually.

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