What are hydrocarbons?

A hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting only of hydrogen and carbon atoms. Hydrocarbons are naturally occurring compounds that underlie crude oil, natural gas, coal and other important energy sources.

Hydrocarbons are highly flammable and produce carbon dioxide, water and heat when burned. Therefore, hydrocarbons are very efficient as fuel sources.

key takeaways

  • Hydrocarbons are the compounds used as the basis for the vast majority of global energy production.
  • A variety of sophisticated techniques and techniques have been developed to extract hydrocarbons from the depths of the earth.
  • Some of the largest companies in the world are hydrocarbon companies, primarily oil and gas companies.
  • The use of hydrocarbons as an energy source has a significant negative impact on the world’s climate, leading to climate change.
  • Attempts to switch from hydrocarbons to alternative energy sources, such as solar, nuclear, wind and geothermal, have increased significantly due to the severe environmental costs associated with the use of hydrocarbons as a primary energy source.

Learn about hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons occur naturally around the world, derived from plant and animal fossils formed over thousands of years by the forces of temperature and weight. They are mostly found deep underground in porous rock formations such as sandstone, limestone and shale.

Porous rock formations are often found in large swaths of water, so there is a lot of hydrocarbons deep in the ocean. Oil and gas exploration companies use advanced engineering techniques to identify these potential reservoirs and pull their resources to the surface for human use. Examples of such technologies include offshore oil platforms, directional drilling, and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technologies.

Hydrocarbons are very important to the modern economy. Globally, hydrocarbons account for approximately 85% of energy consumption. This figure may actually substantially underestimate the role of hydrocarbons in the economy, as they are used in a wide range of applications in addition to their use as energy sources. For example, refined petroleum has been used to produce countless derived materials such as plastics, solvents and lubricants that play a key role in the global economy.

Depending on the type and location of the reserves, different techniques are used to extract hydrocarbons. For example, hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as “hydraulic fracturing”) is used to extract natural gas from shale by using a pressurized fracturing fluid to create fractures through which gas can escape to the surface. Mining is used to extract oil sands, which are unconventional deposits of crude oil that are heavily mixed with sand and sandstone.

Examples of hydrocarbon companies

Since hydrocarbons are the largest energy source in the world, some of the largest companies in the world are hydrocarbon companies. These primarily include oil and gas companies that mine hydrocarbons and convert them into the energy the world uses to power almost everything.

Some of the largest hydrocarbon companies include Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Saudi Aramco and PetroChina. The success of these companies and their ability to provide energy efficiently and cheaply greatly affects the world’s financial markets and economies.

Fluctuations in oil prices have a big impact on the cost of gasoline for cars, jet fuel for airlines and home heating. These costs affect how consumers spend their money; decisions that affect the entire global economy.

special attention items

Unfortunately, it is now understood that the use of hydrocarbons as a primary energy source has serious environmental costs. Greenhouse gases released during the burning of hydrocarbons are contributing to climate change. The oil and gas extraction process can damage the surface environment and surrounding groundwater of the extraction site.

Many economists believe that hydrocarbon energy production involves a number of negative externalities that are not fully reflected in the market price of oil and gas. In fact, given the rising costs of climate change-related phenomena, many argue that these externalities greatly outweigh any cost savings associated with hydrocarbons.

Alternatives to Hydrocarbons

To address the negative impacts of hydrocarbon energy sources, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal energy are increasingly being used. In addition to innovations in battery technology and “smart grid” infrastructure, these new energy alternatives are likely to play a larger role in global energy production in the years and decades to come.


Solar energy comes from the sun. The process converts solar energy into heat or electricity, which is used to power homes, heat commercial and industrial water, and provide electricity. Solar energy is considered to be the most abundant and cleanest energy source in the world.

The top five countries for solar power generation are China, the United States, Japan, Germany and India.

Solar energy has gained prominence in use in homes and office buildings. It works through solar panels placed on these structures, converting solar energy into electricity and other uses. Solar panel companies have become a new part of the energy industry.


Wind energy uses wind to generate electricity or electricity. Wind turbines are created to convert wind energy into mechanical energy, which is then used for various industrial tasks and to generate electricity through the use of generators. Wind turbines can be found on land and water.


Geothermal energy utilizes the heat that exists below the earth’s surface. The heat source is trapped in rocks and liquids below the surface and deep into the core. Geothermal energy is produced by digging wells in the earth’s surface to obtain steam and hot water, which are used in generators that generate electricity.

Hydrocarbon FAQs

What are hydrocarbons and what are they used for?

A hydrocarbon is an organic compound composed of hydrogen and carbon in crude oil, natural gas and coal. Hydrocarbons are highly flammable and are the world’s primary energy source. Its uses include gasoline, jet fuel, propane, kerosene, and diesel, just to name a few.

What types of hydrocarbons are there?

There are two types of hydrocarbons: aliphatic and aromatic. The three types of aliphatic hydrocarbons are alkanes, alkenes and alkynes. Aromatic hydrocarbons include benzene. In general, examples of hydrocarbons are methane, ethane, propane and butane.

What is hydrocarbon fuel?

Hydrocarbon fuels are fuels derived from hydrocarbons, including gasoline and jet fuel, both of which have important uses in the modern world, from powering cars to airplanes to lawn mowers.

How do you identify hydrocarbons?

Hydrocarbons are identified by studying their molecular structure. Composed of only carbon and hydrogen, hydrocarbons come in many different forms, but this is their identifying characteristic.

Are hydrocarbons harmful to humans?

Yes, hydrocarbons are dangerous to humans. Hydrocarbon emissions have been shown to damage the respiratory system and damage the environment through climate change and the greenhouse effect. Oil spills destroy ecosystems. While hydrocarbons are naturally occurring, it is they that are manipulated into energy sources that are harmful to humans.

bottom line

Hydrocarbons are naturally occurring compounds composed of hydrogen and carbon in crude oil, natural gas and coal. They have been manipulated by humans for energy sources such as gasoline and jet fuel. The use of hydrocarbons, especially the combustion of hydrocarbons, such as in coal, has devastating effects on the environment. As a result, many safer and cleaner alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, have been developed.

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