Hydrocarbons are compounds containing only hydrogen and carbon atoms. Many common fuels such as gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, aviation fuel, and natural gas are essentially mixtures of hydrocarbons. Paraffin wax, used to make many candles, is a mixture of hydrocarbons with the representative formula C25H52.

Ethyl alcohol, a substituted hydrocarbon with the formula C2H5OH, is used as a gasoline additive (gasohol) and as a gasoline substitute.


In the Preliminary Activity, you will determine the heat of combustion of paraffin wax (in kJ/g). You will first use the energy from burning paraffin wax to heat a known quantity of water. By monitoring the temperature of the water, you can find the amount of heat transferred to it (in kJ), using the formula

q = C_p cdot m cdot Delta t

where q is heat, Cp is the specific heat capacity of water, m is the mass of water, and Δt is the change in temperature of the water. Finally, the amount of fuel burned will be taken into account by calculating the heat per gram of paraffin wax consumed in the combustion.

After completing the Preliminary Activity, you will first use reference sources to find out more about fossil fuel energy before you choose and investigate a researchable question.