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What is the process known as hydrocarbon cracking?

Discover what hydrocarbon cracking is and why its useful in gasoline.

Hydrocarbon cracking helps create gasoline from petroleum. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Hydrocarbon cracking helps create gasoline from petroleum.

Cracking is a process that uses heat to decompose complex substances. Hydrocarbon cracking is the decomposition of petroleum or heavy petroleum fractions (groupings) by heat, with or without catalysts, to give materials lower boiling points.

Thermal cracking, developed by William Burton in 1913, uses heat and pressure to break some of the large, heavy hydrocarbon molecules into smaller gasoline-grade ones. The cracked hydrocarbons are then sent to a flash chamber where the various fractions are separated.

Thermal cracking not only doubles the gasoline yield, but has improved gasoline quality, producing gasoline components with good antiknock characteristics.

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