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(Redirected from Hydrocarbons)

In chemistry, a hydrocarbon is any chemical compounds that consists only of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H). They all consist of a carbon backbone and atoms of hydrogen attached to that backbone. (Often the term is used as a shortened form of the term aliphatic hydrocarbon.)

For example, methane (swamp gas/marsh gas) is a hydrocarbon with one carbon atom and four hydrogen atoms: CH4. Ethane is a hydrocarbon (more specifically, an alkane) consisting of two carbon atoms held together with a single bond, each with three hydrogen atoms bonded: C2H6. Propane has three C atoms (C3H8) and so on (CnH2·n+2).

There are essentially three types of hydrocarbons:

  1. aromatic hydrocarbons, which have at least one aromatic ring
  2. saturated hydrocarbons, also known as alkanes, which don't have double, triple or aromatic bonds
  3. unsaturated hydrocarbons, which have one or more double or triple bonds between carbon atoms, are divided into:

The number of hydrogen atoms in hydrocarbons can be determined, if the number of carbon atoms is known, by using these following equations:

  • Alkanes: CnH2n+2
  • Alkenes: CnH2n (assuming only one double bond)
  • Alkynes: CnH2n-2 (assuming only one triple bond)

Each of these hydrocarbons must follow the 4-hydrogen rule which states that all carbon atoms must have the maximum number of hydrogen atoms as it can hold (the limit is four). Note, an extra bond removes 2 hydrogen atoms and only saturated hydrocarbons can attain the full four. This is because of the unique positions of the carbon's four electrons.

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 subsurface using the tools of petroleum geology.

Hydrocarbons are of prime economic importance because they encompass the constituents of the major fossil fuels (coal,petroleum, natural gas, etc.) and biofuels, as well as plastics, waxes, solvents and oils. In urban pollution, these components--along with NOx and sunlight--all contribute to the formation of tropospheric ozone.

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