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petcoke

petroleum coke

petcoke

Petroleum coke, or petcoke, is a product produced from all types of oil (light/heavy crudes) during the oil refining process when bitumen found in tar sands. Bitumen contains a higher number of carbon atoms than regular oil and it’s these atoms, extracted from large hydrocarbon molecules using heat, that go on to form petcoke.

High grade petcoke which is low in sulphur and heavy metals can be used to make electrodes for the steel and aluminum industry. But the majority of petcoke manufactured globally, approximately 75-80%, is of a much lower grade, containing higher levels of sulphur and heavy metals and is used solely as fuel. The majority of petcoke produced in the U.S. is exported to China – the world’s largest consumer of coal – to feed its many coal-fired power stations.

Petcoke is an extremely stable fuel which means there is little risk of combustion during transportation, but due to its high carbon content when it does combust it releases up to 10% more CO2 per unit of energy that normal coal. That’s higher than almost any other energy source in existence and makes petcoke a huge contributor to the creation of greenhouse gases.

It’s not just carbon that makes petcoke an environmental concern. Increased pollution controls are required during petcoke combustion to capture the excess sulphur found in low grade petcoke. The heavy metal content of petcoke has also left many worried, both at the effects of releasing it into the air when petcoke is burned, and the implications it has for the local environment during storage.  

Despite the environmental concerns connected to the manufacture and use of petcoke, it remains popular due its cost effectiveness.