Hydrocarbons are organic compounds consisting only of hydrogen and carbon atoms, found in fossil fuels like crude oil, natural gas and coal. They are grouped into five main families or homologous series (alkanes, alkenes, alkynes, cycloalkanes, alkadiene). The hydrocarbons within a homologous series share a general formula, chemical and physical properties. The most recognizable hydrocarbons are those from the alkene family, like methane, ethane, propane and butane, which share a simple construction with carbon-carbon single bonds.
How combustion of hydrocarbons affects the environment
The combustion of hydrocarbon fuels releases carbon dioxide (CO2), as well as other greenhouse gases that contribute to atmospheric pollution and climate change. Unlike fossil fuel impurities that result in byproduct emissions, CO2 is an unavoidable result of hydrocarbon combustion. The energy density and CO2-footprint of a fuel depends on the hydrocarbon chain length and the complexity of its hydrocarbon molecules.
How incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons affects the environment
In addition to the effects of burned hydrocarbons, they are even more harmful when they escape in their unburned form. Toxic, carcinogenic molecules are found in engine exhaust, as well as evaporating petroleum and gas. Heavier forms can contaminate soil and groundwater. Methane, the hydrocarbon most frequently discussed in this context, is a more powerful heat-trapping greenhouse gas than CO2, so when it leaks into the atmosphere unburned, it contributes more to climate change than the carbon dioxide produced by burning it.
Harnessing hydrocarbon fuels more efficiently
Although a carbon-neutral future is a declared goal of the international community, eliminating hydrocarbon fuels from global power supply is a gradual, ongoing process. Cutting off all supplies of crude oil, gas and coal would be impossible, but we can do our best to minimize their harmful effects while working on the truly emission-free solutions of the future.
Minimizing the contributions of hydrocarbon fuel to climate change
As long as hydrocarbon fuels are still being mined, produced and used all over the world, it is essential that their harmful impact is reduced all along the value chain. MAN Energy Solutions supports the petroleum and gas industry with upstream, midstream and downstream technologies that increase efficiency, reduce loss and lower emissions.
From coal to natural gas
One quick and efficient way of significantly reducing the impact of hydrocarbon combustion is to eliminate the least energy efficient fuel, that is also the worst pollutant – and replace it with a solution that is both cleaner and more effective. A recent conversion of a coal-fired thermal power plant in Germany to a combined heat and power (CHP) plant run on gas is an excellent example of a project implemented with the expertise of MAN Energy Solutions. Replacing coal with gas plants across Germany could save around 70 million metric tons of CO2 annually, amounting to 40% of the reduction target set by the country’s long-term climate strategy.
[CHP] technology is making a major contribution to the reduction of pollutant emissions and increasing the efficiency of heat generation, as well as enabling flexibility and ensuring high levels of supply security. Completing this project has a signal effect on the German and European markets.