In organic chemistry, a hydrocarbon is an organic compound consisting entirely of hydrogen and carbon. With relation to chemical terminology, aromatic hydrocarbons or arenes, alkanes, alkenes and alkyne-based compounds composed entirely of carbon or hydrogen are referred to as "pure" hydrocarbons, whereas other hydrocarbons with bonded compounds or impurities of sulphur or nitrogen, are referred to as "impure", and remain somewhat erroneously referred to as hydrocarbons.

Hydrocarbons are referred to as consisting of a "backbone" or "skeleton" composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen and other bonded compounds, and lack a functional group that generally facilitates combustion without adverse effects. The majority of hydrocarbons found naturally occur in crude oil, where decomposed organic matter provides an abundance of carbon and hydrogen which, when bonded, can catenate to form seemingly limitless chains.

The classifications for hydrocarbons defined by IUPAC nomenclature of organic chemistry are as follows:

Saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes) are the most simple of the hydrocarbon species and are composed entirely of single bonds and are saturated with hydrogen; they are the basis of petroleum fuels and are either found as linear or branched species of unlimited number. The general formula for saturated hydrocarbons is CnH2n+2 (assuming non-cyclic structures).

Unsaturated hydrocarbons have one or more double or triple bonds between carbon atoms. Those with one double bond are called alkenes, with the formula CnH2n (assuming non-cyclic structures). Those containing triple bonds are called alkynes, with general formula CnH2n-2.

Cycloalkanes are hydrocarbons containing one or more carbon rings to which hydrogen atoms are attached. The general formula for a saturated hydrocarbon containing one ring is CnH2n

Aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as arenes, are hydrocarbons that have at least one aromatic ring and are found in most Essential Oils.

Hydrocarbons can be gases (e.g. methane and propane), liquids (e.g. hexane and benzene), waxes or low melting solids (e.g. paraffin wax and naphthalene) or polymers (e.g. polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene).

Because of differences in molecular structure, the empirical formula remains different between hydrocarbons; in linear, or "straight-run" alkanes, alkenes and alkynes, the amount of bonded hydrogen lessens in alkenes and alkynes due to the "self-bonding" or catenation of carbon preventing entire saturation of the hydrocarbon by the formation of double or triple bonds.

This inherent ability of hydrocarbons to bond to themselves is referred to as catenation, and allows hydrocarbon to form more complex molecules, such as cyclohexane, and in rarer cases, arenes such as benzene. This ability comes from the fact that bond character between carbon atoms is entirely non-polar, in that the distribution of electrons between the two elements is somewhat even due to the same electronegativity values of the elements (~0.30), and does not result in the formation of an electrophile.

Generally, with catenation comes the loss of the total amount of bonded hydrocarbons and an increase in the amount of energy required for bond cleavage due to strain exerted upon the molecule; in molecules such as cyclohexane, this is referred to as ring strain, and occurs due to the "destabilized" spatial electron configuration of the atom.

In simple chemistry, as per valence bond theory, the carbon atom must follow the "4-hydrogen rule", which states that the maximum number of atoms available to bond with carbon is equal to the number of electrons that are attracted into the outer shell of carbon. In terms of shells, carbon consists of an incomplete outer shell, which comprises 4 electrons, and thus has 4 electrons available for covalent or dative bonding.

Hydrocarbons are one of the Earth's most important energy resources. The predominant use of hydrocarbons is as a combustible fuel source. Mixtures of volatile hydrocarbons are now used in preference to the chlorofluorocarbons as a propellant for aerosol sprays, due to chlorofluorocarbons impact on the ozone layer.

Essential oils can be extracted by using solvents such as petroleum ether, methanol, ethanol or hexane and is often used on fragile material such as jasmine, hyacinth, narcissus and tuberose, which would not be able to handle the heat of steam distillation.

Solvent extracted essential oil is very concentrated and is very close to the natural fragrance of the material used. Although solvent extraction is used extensively, some people do not believe that it should be used for aromatherapy oils since a residue of solvent could be present in the finished product. Some reports site a solvent residue of 6 - 20% still present in the finished extraction, but this was normally the case when benzene was the standard solvent used.

With hexane (a hydrocarbon) as the solvent material the solvent residue goes down to about 10 ppm (parts per million) and this is a extremely low concentration of solvent in the resultant product. As mentioned, benzene is no longer used in the extraction method, since it is regarded as carcinogenic (cancer forming). After the plant material has been treated with the solvent, it produces a waxy aromatic compound referred to as a "concrete".

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