How can crude oil be used as a source of hydrocarbons?

Crude oil is a natural mixture of many different hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons can be separated using a process known as fractional distillation.

The crude oil is heated in a fractioning column allowing the different hydrocarbons to evaporate. The column also has several different condensers at different heights which allow the hydrocarbons to be separated depending on their volatility (how easy it is for them to evaporate) and their density.

Hydrocarbons with the lowest density and smallest molecular size (e.g. propane) condense at the top of the column where it is the coolest. Conversely, the hydrocarbons with the highest density and largest molecular size (e.g. bitumen) condense at the bottom of the column where the temperature is the highest. Not all hydrocarbons will evaporate and condense it is common to have a collection of gases at the top of the column, liquids in the middle of the column and solids at the bottom of the column,

Once the hydrocarbons have been separated they can be used for different purposes. Below are common hydrocarbons that can be obtained through fractional distillation ordered from lowest density to the highest density:

Refinery gases (e.g. propane) – Used as bottled gases for portable stoves and barbeques

Petrol – Used as fuel in cars

Naphtha – Used in many chemical processes

Kerosene – Used as fuel in aircrafts

Diesel – Used as fuel in cars, lorries and busses

Oils – Used as fuel for ships and power stations

Bitumen – Used as a covering for roofs and pavements

Thomas W. GCSE Chemistry tutor, A Level Chemistry tutor, GCSE Biology...

3 months ago

Answered by Thomas, an A Level Chemistry tutor with MyTutor

Still stuck? Get one-to-one help from a personally interviewed subject specialist


£24 /hr

Julia M.

Degree: Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security (Masters) - Edinburgh University

Subjects offered: Chemistry, Maths+ 1 more


“Hi there friend!  The way the world around us works is absolutely fascinating - and that's what science aims to understand. Of course, when faced with long equations and new concepts, conquering science can seem much more daunting tha...”

£20 /hr

Ben A.

Degree: Medicine (Bachelors) - University College London University

Subjects offered: Chemistry, Physics+ 6 more

.BMAT (BioMedical Admissions)
-Personal Statements-
-Medical School Preparation-

“Hello,I am a first year medical student at University College London, When I was in sixth form, I helped tutor the younger years and I always enjoyed it, so I decided to keep it on in my university years.My subjects are the three m...”

£20 /hr

Roshni R.

Degree: Dentistry (Bachelors) - Birmingham University

Subjects offered: Chemistry, Spanish+ 4 more

-Personal Statements-
-Medical School Preparation-

“Tutoring approach Professional but friendly approach.  Work with my students to identify the areas the student is finding most difficult. Review the topic with my hand-written notes.  Explain any misunderstood areas. Work through examp...”

About the author

£20 /hr

Thomas W.

Degree: MSci Chemistry (Masters) - Nottingham University

Subjects offered: Chemistry, Science+ 1 more


“ABOUT ME I am an MSci Chemistry student at the University of Nottingham. I have always  loved science throughout school and I hope that I can help you enjoy and understand it too. At A-Level I studied Chemistry, Physics, Biology and P...”

MyTutor guarantee

You may also like...

Other A Level Chemistry questions

What is an optical isomerism?

Explain how pH changes can be minimised using a mixture of a weak acid and it's conjugate base

How does the reactivity of group 2 elements change down the group, and what is the cause of this trend?

Describe two different test tube reactions to identify the following organic compounds: propanal and benzoic acid.

View A Level Chemistry tutors


We use cookies to improve our service. By continuing to use this website, we'll assume that you're OK with this. Dismiss