Guide: Petroleum Processing

From HBM's Nuclear Tech Wiki
A vacuum oil distillation setup in a flat, grassy area with a large amount of steel tanks near the left side of the image with various labels on them.
A comprehensive end game vacuum oil refinery with various tanks of useful products on display.

Crude oil refining, otherwise known as petrochemical refining or petrochemistry, is an essential component of progression and is particularly useful to early game players due to the sheer size of oil deposits and their ability to be refined into fuels that can be combusted for far greater amounts of power than is possible with things such as wood burning generators and coal fired boilers/Stirling engines. This guide will detail every part of the process of the petrochemical chain, starting with finding the deposit and ending with the most complex available refining process currently in the mod.

Finding Oil

Before extracting oil, you must first find a deposit of oil that you can extract it from. The only device in the early game that can detect oil deposits is the oil reservoir detector, a cheap device which can be used to scan for oil in a thin column below you by right clicking anywhere. The range it scans in is small (approximately 8 blocks) so your best bet for finding oil is to move through every chunk in an area, scanning for oil constantly until you either see the message "Oil detected nearby." or "Oil deposit directly below!". If the former shows up, scan in the nearby area until the latter displays. You may have noticed patches of oily dirt or sand around your world that seem like they'd point to a deposit, but those only indicate bedrock deposits which require other methods of extraction than standard oil. Keep their locations in mind.

Extracting Oil

Two devices in this mod can extract normal oil deposits: the oil derrick and the pumpjack. The oil derrick is significantly cheaper than the pumpjack but in turn extracts at a slower rate and depletes deposits faster than the pumpjack. In contrast, the pumpjack is more expensive but is far more efficient. Both machines share the same general mechanics and drilling blocks so they can be switched out for each other depending on your needs, meaning that the derrick can act as a cheap initial source of oil while you work up towards obtaining a pumpjack. When extracting oil, an amount of natural gas about equal to but smaller than the amount of crude oil you pump up will flow into the derrick/pumpjack, which should ideally be stored so that it can be refined later on for useful progression necessary products, or can simply be burned off in a flare stack to continue the flow of oil.

To bring oil back to your base, the most effective method is to construct a pipeline because fluid connections in this mod will work if both ends of the fluid network are connected and loaded even if all of the fluid ducts are unloaded, meaning that an oil extraction outpost 1000 blocks away will still transfer oil if the both the derrick and the tank at your base are still loaded. Other early game methods consist of filling up tanks and manually bring them back home, putting the oil into barrels, or simply processing it on site.

Refining Oil (General)

A few things apply to nearly all fluids in the petrochemical refining chain that can come in handy for various purposes.

  1. Can be burned to produce heat in a fluid burner to supply heating setups such a steam boiler or oil heater.
  2. Can be coked in a coker unit to produce petroleum coke which is identical to standard coke.

This does not apply to every single fluid in the petrochemical chain but it applies to enough of them that it should be kept in mind. Each fluid also has its own efficiency of being coked or burned which should be considered when deciding which to use for what purpose. For example, bitumen requires 16,000mb in order to yield one piece of petroleum coke, but diesel only requires 590mb to yield one piece of petroleum coke, meaning that it is far more efficient to break bitumen down into its constituent components and then to coke it rather than coke it directly.

Even some high grade fuels such as diesel can produce more power when combusted as their constituent parts when refined down further, so extra care should be taken to pay attention to the amount of power yielded by certain fuels and their ratios if combustion is the end goal of an oil processing setup.

The catalytic reformer is not included in each diagram due to its late game requirements as well as sheer complexity of processing chains.

Refining Oil (Basic)

Basic oil processing chart featuring only early game machines.
Basic oil processing chart featuring only early game machines.

Note: Charts presented from this point on are just one way to process oil. There are many possible ways to process oil in this mod and you should experiment with your own ideal setup once you have a grasp of the basic mechanics

Once the oil is where you want it, you need to construct a few machines and set up some infrastructure before you can refine the crude oil into useful products. The most basic of these machines are the boiler, the refinery, and the fractioning tower.


Heats up liquids, in this case oil and oil products, so that they can be processed by the refinery. Must be manually set to accept oil with a fluid identifier as it is by default set to only boil water. Many refinery setups include a fluid burner that burns off a low grade fuel product (such as heating oil) to heat up the oil for processing allowing for a refinery to be fully self sustaining as long as it has oil.


Separates hot crude oil of various types into constituent parts that can either be used as is or refined further. Requires power to operate and will output sulfur when refining crude oil which can be removed by extracting items from the center block on the bottom of the machine or by manually removing it through the GUI.

Fractioning Tower

Passively turns oil products inside of it into more refined products without the need for power or any other input fluid. Can have its operation accelerated by stacking multiple fractioning towers on top of each other which is particularly useful for more complex setups.

Early game oil refining can be done solely with these 3 components to decent success, permitting a much stronger form of power generation in addition to the creation of new materials such as polymers and oil tar. In particular, polymer is the most important product that early processing can yield because it is used to construct the catalytic cracking tower which vastly increases the degree to which crude oil and its products can be refined as well as unlocking a totally new chain to refine oil through.

Your primary goal during this stage of refining should be to stockpile petroleum gas and obtain decent quantities of useful materials such as oil tar and polymer for later use in expanding your petrochemical refinery.

Refining Oil (Intermediate)

More complex oil refining chart including catalytic cracking towers.
More complex oil refining chart including catalytic cracking towers.

After you have gotten enough polymer to construct a cracking tower or two, you should move on to upgrade your refining setup to include them. This is also the stage where you will be able to break down natural gas into useful components.

Catalytic Cracking Tower

Complex machine that requires steam to refine oil products. Outputs low pressure steam after each operation which necessitates adding a condenser or cooling tower in an oil refining setup to condense and re-boil the the steam used in this process. Despite this added complexity, the cracking tower is well worth it as it unlocks a vast array of new possibilities for petrochemical products and also allows for natural gas to be broken down into petroleum gas and unsaturated hydrocarbons.

Intermediate oil setups utilizing the cracking tower will carry you through most of the game and provide the majority of necessary products for nearly every general use case. In particular, products such as both forms of hydrocarbons are useful for being used in the production of Bakelite and rubber, two materials that will be used extensively throughout the rest of the mod.

Additionally, the cracking tower allows you to utilize the refinery's ability to refine cracked oil, a slightly simplified refining chain compared to standard crude oil.

Fracking Tower

Cracked oil refining chart which yields the most widely useful products (hydrocarbons, kerosene, petroleum gas) out of currently available types.
Cracked oil refining chart which yields the most widely useful products (hydrocarbons, kerosene, petroleum gas) out of currently available types.

Significant upgrade to the derrick and pumpjack as it allows for the extraction of oil infinitely from bedrock oil deposits which are indicated by oily sand or dirt on the surface as spoken of in the beginning of this article. Quite expensive due to it using large amounts of desh components but by this stage of refining you should have enough production to get the necessary quantity of light oil. The cracking tower is far slower, requires more power, and consumes fracking solution (sulfur and petroleum) in order to operate but will yield infinite quantities of oil as long as all of its requirements are met which can allow for permanent on site petrochemical production facilities without the need to find new oil deposits.

Natural gas refining chart with the right side featuring a processing chain available in the next stage of oil refining.
Natural gas refining chart with the right side featuring a processing chain available in the next stage of oil refining.

This stage of petrochemical refining can supply you with most necessary products throughout the majority of the game with it only falling short around the point of making a fusion reactor due to the lack of reformate or reformate gas for the production of hard plastic. As well as this, later products are exceptionally powerful for creating products such as jet fuel or reformate gas which burns at an incredibly high temperature, meaning that while possible to not advance for a long time, it may not be in your best interest.

Your primary goal during this stage of refining should be to use up as many of your petrochemical products as possible by creating items from them or burning them for use in other industries. Additionally, if you plan to launch many rockets, stockpile large quantities of kerosene.

Refining Oil (Advanced)

Vacuum oil refining chart which is necessary for obtaining most later game oil products such as reformate and BTX in large quantities.
Vacuum oil refining chart which is necessary for obtaining most later game oil products such as reformate and BTX in large quantities.

After you get to the point where reformate, reformate gas, and BTX become important ingredients (particularly for hard plastic), it is best to upgrade your refining setup to use a vacuum refinery instead of a standard refinery. This will also necessitate making two compressors to utilize the vacuum refinery but besides from that, all other machines used in previous stages will be useful now. As well as this, at this stage of the game you will likely have access to the catalytic reformer which can be used for producing a variety of rarer types of petrochemical products like reformate gas.

Vacuum Refinery

Refines oil that has been compressed to two pressure units by a compressor. Acts similar to the refinery (consumes power and compressed crude oil, outputs various refined products) except that it does not produce a solid product. One of the more unique products produced by the vacuum refinery that is not seen elsewhere is sulfuric acid which comes as a result of reforming sour gas. This allows for the automation of later stages of the ore acidizer without needing to spend significant amounts of effort on automating sulfur with bedrock glowstone, glyphids, or any other method.

Catalytic Reformer

Reforms petrochemical products into new products using a catalytic converter. Requires power to operate and is most useful for extracting sulfuric acid from sour gas or obtaining reformate and reformate gas from various other petrochemical products.

This is the final stage of oil refining and there is little content in regards to it beyond this point. Thus, your primary goal in this stage is to simply use all of your products to their fullest.

Other Processing Pathways

Other ways of refining oil in the later game exist but are generally not as good as other methods of refining oil. The primary alternative is hydrotreating which while yielding a large amount of sulfur will primarily yield things such as high octane diesel and jet fuel, both powerful combustible fuels that are used in no recipes and thus will likely serve little purpose to a player at this stage as they will be well into the nuclear age and thus not need combustion based power generation.