Motor oil, whether synthetic or petroleum-based, consists of molecular chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms, referred to as hydrocarbons. Petroleum crude oil is a thick, highly flammable dark-brown or greenish liquid with high energy density. Many contaminating elements exist in this complex mixture of hydrocarbons, including sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen and metal components such as nickel or vanadium. Petroleum crude oil is the raw material used for a wide variety of petrochemicals, including solvents, fertilizers, plastics and lubricants.
The oil refining process separates the various types of molecules in the oil by weight, resulting in a concentrated batch suitable for manufacturing products such as gasoline, LPG, kerosene or lubricant base oils. The chemical composition of conventional motor oil can vary substantially depending on the raw crude oil refining process.
While petroleum base oils are refined, synthetic base oils are manufactured by means of a process called organic synthesis enabling them to achieve a higher performance level. Synthetic oil is chemically engineered for a certain molecular composition with a tailored and uniform structure. Such fine-tuned control over the final molecular composition of synthetic oils is the key to their superior performance properties. Designing molecular structures in a planned and orderly fashion results in molecules, and end-products, that are far more stable than their refined petroleum counterparts.
Of course the base stock is only one part of the mix that ultimately goes into your engine. There are a variety of additives that each serve various functions. If you’re an information junky for that kind of thing and want to learn more, check out our News Stand at AMSOIL.com as well as our Frequently Asked Questions page, where this brief account originated.