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Hydrocarbon Cracking

After the initial fractional distillation process is applied to crude petroleum, there will be a significant amount of long chain alkane residuals left over in the form of bitumen. Bitumen has limited commercial value and thus being able to convert this residual material into shorter chain alkanes or alkenes would create considerable value for the manufacturer.

This conversion is in fact possible, and is called "cracking."

Catalytic Cracking

Catalytic cracking uses a solid acid catalyst such as aluminium oxide and silicon dioxide with moderately-high temperatures to aid in the process of breaking down large hydrocarbon molecules into smaller ones.

Thermal Cracking

In thermal cracking elevated temperatures (~800°C) and pressures (~700kPa) are used, to break the long chain alkanes down into shorter chain alkanes and alkenes.

In general a long chain alkane which is cracked without access to air or additional hydrogen will produce a shorter chain alkane plus an alkene, thus preserving the hydrogen to carbon ratio found in the original chain.

C22H46 ---> C11H24 (an alkane) + C11H22 (an alkene)

Bibliography

Wikipedia article on hydrocarbon cracking

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