Crude oil, hydrocarbons and alkanes


  • Crude oil is a finite resource found in rocks. Crude oil is the remains of an ancient biomass consisting mainly of plankton that was buried in mud.

Crude oil is a mixture of a very large number of compounds. Most of the compounds in crude oil are hydrocarbons, which are molecules made up of hydrogen and carbon atoms only.

Most of the hydrocarbons in crude oil are hydrocarbons called alkanes. The general formula for the homologous series of alkanes is


The first four members of the alkanes are methane, ethane, propane and butane.

Alkane molecules can be represented in the following forms:

Students should be able to recognise substances as alkanes given their formulae in these forms.

Students do not need to know the names of specific alkanes other than methane, ethane, propane and butane.

WS 1.2 Use a variety of models such as representational, spatial, descriptive, computational and mathematical to solve problems, make predictions and to develop scientific explanations and understanding of familiar and unfamiliar facts.