Environmental Chemistry

Hydrocarbons and Oxides of Carbon

With the alarming rise of pollution levels in our environment, it is very important that we keep ourselves informed about it. One main thing for us to know is what exactly is contributing to this pollution. So let us learn more about the three major pollutants- carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrocarbons.

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Hydrocarbons

A hydrocarbon is any compound that consists carbon and hydrogen atoms. They are organic compounds. Because of the unique covalent nature of carbon, there are thousands upon thousands of hydrocarbons in the world. So gasoline, petroleum, coal, kerosene, charcoal, natural gas etc are all a form of hydrocarbons.

So as you can see hydrocarbons have widespread uses in our day to day lives. They are also a main source of fuel for the industrial and manufacturing sector. And in India especially, where thermal electricity is the main source of electricity, the power sector majorly depends on hydrocarbons such as coal.

Hydrocarbons are introduced to our environment in innumerable ways. Be it their use as a fuel or their applications in the manufacturing sector or even by spillage and leaks sometimes. It is believed that 60% of air pollution is caused due to automobiles that run on these hydrocarbon-based fuels.

Now the main culprit of this pollution is the incomplete combustion of this hydrocarbon fuels. This causes hydrocarbons to react with Nitrogen Oxides (NO2). When the resultant gases are hit by the sun’s rays it leads to the formation of ozone.

Now ozone i.e. O3 is a heavy form of oxygen. It settles down in the atmosphere. This is why polluted air (for example air near traffic jams) feels heavy. Now ozone is a pollutant in this case and causes smog. This incomplete combustion of hydrocarbons drastically brings effects the air quality, causing several problems from diseases to visibility issues.

Carbon Dioxide as a Pollutant

Carbon dioxide is one of the main pollutants with regards to air pollution. It is a primary pollutant, which means it is emitted into the environment directly by human and natural sources. It is a greenhouse gas, which is the main reason responsible for rising temperatures and global warming.

Though there are many natural resources for the release of CO2, the main being respiration by animals. this is not the cause of the excess CO2 in the environment. The natural CO2 produced will balance out according to the carbon cycle. The CO2 pollution is mainly attributed to the emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

So be it the cars that run on the road or the manufacturing plants or the thermal electricity plants, they all release immense amounts of carbon dioxide. Over the last hundred years or so the situation has worsened and as of yet, there is no viable solution in sight.

Carbon Monoxide as a Pollutant

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is another primary pollutant which is extremely dangerous to the environment and also to human directly. It is colorless, odorless and tasteless gas which is very toxic. So as you can understand it is a potentially lethal gas.

The biggest source of CO is the incomplete combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. When enough oxygen is not supplied during the combustion reaction, carbon monoxide is produced.

If a location has a constant high level of CO, its environment starts to suffer. They accumulate unhealthy levels of Ozone and Particulate Matter (PM). This, in turn, will cause further air pollution.

Solved Questions for You

Q: The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known:

  1. Carbon absorber
  2. Chain of Carbon
  3. Carbon Sequestration
  4. None of the Above

Ans: The correct answer is “C”. A carbon sink is a natural or artificial reservoir that accumulates and stores some carbon-containing chemical compound for an indefinite period. The process by which carbon sinks remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration.

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