Highly volatile and flammable, naphtha finds use in many human industries as a solvent, as a fuel, and for industrial purposes. Humans discovered it before the first century A.D. The term naphtha refers to a broad category of chemicals, each a potentially dangerous solution of hydrocarbons. Coal tar, shale and petroleum make up three distinct forms of naphtha, each formed under different conditions and used for different purposes for their chemical properties. In modern production, naphtha often comes from crude oil distillation.
Naphtha has several other names including Enerade ED-6202, high-flash aromatic naphtha, light aromatic solvent naphtha and petroleum naphtha, although these terms can apply to a specific form of naphtha with an intended use.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Humans use naphtha in three main ways: for industrial purposes, as a solvent and as a fuel. It is a large class of chemicals that comes with some health and environmental concerns.
Naphtha Safety Concerns
Naphtha chemicals can be harmful to humans in various ways. If a human's skin or eye comes into contact with naphtha, the area can become irritated and begin to swell and feel painful. Flush skin and eyes immediately after contact. Ingesting the substance causes nausea, lung damage, respiratory failure and death in some cases. In the case of ingestion, do not induce vomiting and seek medical attention immediately. As naphtha produces a strong, chemical odor, long-term exposure to it can cause respiratory and mental issues. Some scientists list it as a carcinogen. A toxic chemical, naphtha should not be drained into natural ecosystems. As most naphtha compounds give off intense, chemical aromas, they are often found in mothballs. Naphtha is flammable and can cause unexpected and dangerous fires.
Naphtha as a Fuel
Humans use naphtha to fuel products because it contains a large amount of chemical energy and is volatile. It can create 3.14 megajoules of energy per liter. Many camping goods stores and hardware stores sell it to power stoves, lanterns, heating units, blow torches and cigarette lighters, thanks to its ability to burn relatively cleanly. It also finds use as an additive to other fuels.
Naphtha in Different Industries
Factories use naphtha as their most common raw material for the creation of plastics such as polypropylene and polyethylene. Different naphtha chemicals also find use as raw materials for the creation of petrochemicals including butane and gasoline. The energy sector uses many millions of tons of naphtha per year and breaks it down into easier-to-use chemicals through a process called steam cracking.
Naphtha as a Solvent
Humans commonly use petroleum naphtha as a solvent. It can be found in various cleaning agents where its low evaporation point comes in handy and as a dilution agent for paints, varnish and asphalt. Dry-cleaning businesses also use naphtha in their operations.
About the Author
Doug Johnson is an Edmonton-based writer, editor and journalist.