Hydrocarbons are nothing but organic compounds consisting entirely of Hydrogen and Carbon. Hydrocarbons come under a different branch of Chemistry – Organic Chemistry.
Organic Chemistry – An Introduction
Carbon unites with many elements to form a great variety of compounds that are found in such substances as coal, petroleum, fabrics, plastics, and rubber. Other carbon compounds include plant and animal tissues, sugars, proteins, starches, and cellulose. About 1 million carbon compounds are known. The substances that contain carbon are called organic compounds, and the science that deals with them is known as organic chemistry.
This name arose because chemists once thought that many of these compounds could be formed only by a vital force (a life process). This was disproved in 1828 when the German chemist Friedrich Wöhler converted the compound ammonium cyanate, NH4CNO, into urea (NH2)2CO.
Before this, urea had been known only as a product of life processes. Today chemists can make many of the products that formerly had been produced only by living plants and animals.
Carbon compounds exist in such number and variety because of the chemical properties of carbon. Since carbon is in Group IV A of the periodic table, it appears to be midway between the metals and nonmetals and has the ability to react with both types of elements. The structure of the carbon atom is unique among atoms, allowing a great array of compounds that are stable under normal atmospheric conditions and reactive in other situations. Carbon reacts as follows:
1. Carbon atoms have the unusual property of combining with each other to form rings or long chains. No other element does so as extensively.
2. Carbon will combine with many different atoms or groups of atoms. This property, together with the ability to form long chains, makes carbon the most versatile of all elements in forming compounds.
3. Carbon forms many compounds that exist as isomers. Isomers are molecules with the same number and kinds of atoms, but in different arrangements.
Let’s get back to Hydrocarbons.
Hydrocarbons are one of the most important energy resources of the Earth. The main usage is as a combustible fuel source.
Hydrocarbons are currently the main source of the world’s electric energy and heat sources (such as home heating) because of the energy produced when burnt. Often this energy is used directly as heat such as in home heaters, which use either oil or natural gas. The hydrocarbon is burnt and the heat is used to heat water, which is then circulated. A similar principle is used to create electric energy in power plants.
As methane only releases one carbon dioxide for two water molecules, it is considered the cleanest fuel.
Liquid geologically-extracted hydrocarbons are referred to as petroleum (literally "rock oil") or mineral oil, while gaseous geologic hydrocarbons are referred to as natural gas. All are significant sources of fuel and raw materials as a feedstock for the production of organic chemicals and are commonly found in the Earth's subsurface using the tools of petroleum geology.
The extraction of liquid hydrocarbon fuel from a number of sedimentary basins has been integral to modern energy development. Hydrocarbons are mined from tar sands, oil shale and potentially extracted from sedimentary methane hydrates. These reserves require distillation and upgrading to produce synthetic crude and petroleum.
Oil reserves in sedimentary rocks are the principal source of hydrocarbons for the energy, transport and petrochemical industries. Hydrocarbons are of prime economic importance because they encompass the constituents of the major fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, natural gas, etc.) and plastics, paraffin, waxes, solvents and oils.