Typically, hydrocarbon compounds are the essential energy storage molecules in all major fossil fuels such as coal, oil, natural gas and biofuels. There are different types of hydrocarbon molecules based on the bonding, position and number of atoms in the molecule. Among the most well-known hydrocarbon compounds are methane (CH4), butane (C4H10), propane (C3H8), benzene (C6H6), ethane (C2H6) and hexane (C6H14).
How hydrocarbon compounds are created
Hydrocarbons are generally formed in nature through the decomposition of the remains of living organisms. When organic remains accumulate and are buried under the earth's crust, pressure, high temperature and time force the molecules to transform into hydrocarbon compounds. These accumulations are generally found deep underground or under the oceans, seas and large lakes.
The hydrocarbon groups
Categorized in the 1900s into two large families, aliphatic or aromatic, hydrocarbon compounds are now distinguished by their molecular structure. However, the terms aliphatic and aromatic are still used today.
Aliphatic hydrocarbons are those that originate from the chemical degradation of fat or oil. While aromatic hydrocarbon originates from the chemical degradation of certain plants.
The aliphatic hydrocarbon are divided into three categories according to the types of bonds they contain: Alkanes, alkenes and alkynes. Typically, alkanes have one bond, alkenes have two carbon-carbon bonds and alkynes have three carbon-carbon bonds.
As for aromatic hydrocarbons, there are arenes and non-benzenoids. The first of these two families is formed by a benzene ring, which gives it its stability. The second family has one or more ring-shaped nuclei, but none of them has the characteristics of a benzene ring.
The uses of hydrocarbon compounds
As mentioned at the beginning, hydrocarbon compounds are the main component of oil and natural gas. They are also found in lubricants and are widely used as raw materials in the creation of plastics, fibers, rubber, solvents, explosives and many industrial chemicals.
When hydrocarbon fuels are burned in the presence of oxygen, they produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). If the concentration of oxygen is too low, or the presence of carbon is too high, carbon monoxide will be emitted. Moreover, it can happen that hydrocarbon is released if the combustion is not completed adequately.