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Organic chemistry

What you need to know

Reflections and Exam tips


Organic chemistry

Organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds. 

Organic chemistry is so complex because...

Carbon atom form very strong covalent bonds

Carbon-carbon bonds can be single, double or triple

Carbon atoms in organic compounds can be arranged in many different forms (isomerism) such as straight chains, branched chains or rings (cyclic or aromatic)

Other elements/groups of elements can be placed on the carbon atoms to form different function groups e.g OH is functional group for alcohols.


Alcohols are not hydrocarbons and contain –OH as functional group.

First few examples are methanol (CH3OH), ethanol (C2H5OH) and propanol (C3H7OH).

The general formula is …    CnH2n+1OH


Alcohols make useful fuels just like hydrocarbons.

Ethanol from fermentation is a carbon neutral fuel as the carbon dioxide produced is taken by the next crop of plants.

Ethanol can be made by fermentation of plant materials (renewable).

Ethanol    +      Oxygen   ——> Carbon dioxide  +  Water

C2H5OH     +     3O2   ——>    2CO2   +    3H2O


Alcohols (OH) react with carboxylic acids (COOH) to produce ESTERS and water.

Ethanoic acid   +      Ethanol      <-->         Ethyl Ethanoate +        Water

CH3COOH   +   C2H5OH    <-->     CH3COOC2H5   +   H2O

The reaction is reversible.

Esters have characteristic smells (used in flavourings).

Reaction with sodium

Alcohols react with sodium and hydrogen gas is produced. Unlike the reaction of sodium with water, the reaction is less vigorous.

Sodium    +      Ethanol   ——>  Sodium ethoxide   + Hydrogen

2Na    +    2C2H5OH     ——> 2C2H5ONa      +      H2


Conditions:  Glucose produced from the hydrolysis of starch, yeast and incubated in a warm environment (not higher than 37°C).

Equation  C6H12O6    ——>    2 C2H5OH    +    2 CO2


  1. Low energy process
  2. Uses renewable resources
  3. Uses simple equipment


  1. Slow process
  2. Produces impure ethanol
  3. Not continuous (batch) process

Hydration of ethene

Conditions: Ethene obtained from cracking crude oil in the presence of catalyst (phosphoric acid) and high temperature and  pressure.

Equation  C2H4   +    H2O    ——>    2 C2H5OH


  1. Fast process
  2. Pure ethanol produced
  3. Continuous process


  1. High energy process
  2. Expensive plant required
  3. Uses non-renewable resources to make ethene

Uses of alcohol

  1. Used in alcoholic drinks
  2. Used as a solvent such as industrial alcohol / methylated spirits
  3. Used as an alternative fuel as petrol substitute in countries with limited oil reserves

Carboxylic acids

Carboxylic acids contain the functional group -COOH. Examples include methanoic acid (HCOOH), ethanoic acid (CH3COOH) and propanoic acid (C2H5COOH).

Reactions of carboxylic acids

React with alcohols to produce esters in a reversible reaction.

Uses of carboxylic acids

Vinegar contains ethanoic acid which is used in the manufacture of rayon.

Oranges and lemons contain citric acid

Aspirin is a carboxylic acid which is used for pain relief and prevention heart attacks.

Vitamin C contains ascorbic acid which is used for pain relief and prevention heart attacks.


Esters are formed by replacing the H on the COOH of a carboxylic acid by a carbon atom group to give the functional group COOC.

Examples include methyl methanoate (HCOOCH3) and methyl ethanoate (CH3COOCH3).

Esters are used as flavourings due to their fruity odours.