Hydrocarbons and Carbon

Hydrocarbons and Carbon

Carbon. A lot of misinformation about carbon. Let’s see if we can help set it straight. Carbon is star dust. It is also the fourth most abundant element in the entire universe. Carbon is everywhere. When you walk outside and you see your friends and your pets and the trees and the grass, they’re all carbon based life forms. Without carbon, we wouldn’t be here. The carbon that’s in you has been recycled. The carbon that’s in you in the past might have been in a kangaroo, or a flower, or a killer whale, or Tyrannosaurus rex, or an Amoeba. That carbon is constantly recycled on earth, and one of the methods that helps recycle carbon is a process called photosynthesis. You remember this from eighth grade. Photosynthesis is where plants take carbon dioxide and water and using the power of the sun, convert that into oxygen and glucose.

So when you think about our world’s oceans, over millions of years, this process of photosynthesis takes place in single cell animals and plants all over the world. It always has been, and it always will. This process has never changed. So photosynthesis is going on in our world’s ocean right now. In the right circumstances when these single cell animals and plants die, they sink to the bottom of the ocean floor in an area where there is zero oxygen. So they do not decompose. Then they get covered with layers of sediment and over millions of years, that pressure and heat from being buried in Mother Earth converts those single cells, animals and plants that grabbed energy from the sun using photosynthesis into hydrocarbons. Think about what I just said. A hydrocarbon is chemical energy from sunlight in the past, nurtured and stored by mother Earth for us to use.

Hydrocarbons are Still Being Made

There’s nothing bad about hydrocarbons. They’re one of the most abundant elements on this planet and also in outer space. Hydrocarbons everywhere and hydrocarbons are still being made right here in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, any of the warm seas in the ocean. Right here in the Gulf of Mexico you’re having Plankton and Zooplankton die, sink to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River covers it with layer of sediment and over millions of years that turns those microscopic plants and animals into hydrocarbons. The process is still going on, not as fast as say the Pleistocene era or the Jurassic era or the Permian era, but it’s still going on right now. It always has went on. The only time that you don’t have this process of carbon recycling going on is when our earth enters an ice age. The rest of the time while the earth is warm these production of hydrocarbons continues. It’s a natural process. Now, this hydrocarbon molecule that was created is one of the most useful molecules to mankind. If you’re a chemical engineer the hydrocarbon molecule is like the most incredible set of Legos that you’ve ever seen, you can build anything and everything out of this. Now, while you’re listening to me, your brain is burning glucose, a sugar for fuel. The difference between that glucose molecule and a hydrocarbon molecule is simply oxygen. A hydrocarbon is a carbon element and a hydrogen element bonded together to make a hydrocarbon. Glucose is a hydrogen atom, a carbon atom and an oxygen atom bonded together. So literally, the difference between a hydrocarbon and what your body uses for fuel is simply oxygen.

Hydrocarbon molecule

Hydrocarbons are Stored Sunlight From the Past

There’s a lot of talk about hydrocarbons in the renewable space, and let me set the record straight, I love renewables. They have their place in our energy mix and our energy mix has always changed from the beginning of time. In the very beginning, we burned biofuels. We burned wood to keep ourselves warm, to cook our food. Eventually that led to us slaughtering whales, which was not very smart to run our houses and our homes. And now renewables are coming into the mix and they provide cheap, abundant electricity in the right circumstances, but not in all circumstances. Now, remember what I told you about hydrocarbons? That it stored chemical energy from past sunlight in the ground for free. Think about a lithium ion battery. A lithium ion battery is stored chemical energy, but it has a cost. Hydrocarbons are nature’s batteries. And the sunlight that it used came from the past, not today. The world right now is going through an energy shortage and it will continue to go through energy shortage for the next couple of years.

Our Energy Mix Changing is a Good Thing

You hear a lot of people talk about the war in the Ukraine and Russia caused this energy shortage. No, I predicted this last November. We were headed to this energy shortage anyway. And the reason the world is in energy shortage is because our world’s politicians have tried to force the market into renewables faster than it actually could implement it. So hydrocarbons are around, they are natural, the word fossil fuels actually was invented by JD Rockefeller in 1870 because he knew that hydrocarbons were everywhere and abundant. But from a marketing point of view, he wanted his buyers to think they were in short supply. So he coined the word “fossil fuels” to be able to sell hydrocarbons at a higher price. Hydrocarbons actually are organic energy. Like I said, it’s legacy sunlight nurtured by Mother Earth, and it’s stored for free in the ground. So hopefully that helps you understand what carbon is, what hydrocarbons are, and how it’s a benefit to mankind. The future will continue to see our energy mix change, and that’s a good thing. But hydrocarbons will always play a vital role.

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