What is the Difference Between Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating

The main difference between hydrocracking and hydrotreating is that hydrocracking is more about breaking down large and heavy hydrocarbons to produce lighter and more valuable products, whereas hydrotreating is more about removing impurities from crude oil fractions.

Hydrotreating and hydrocracking are important processes in the refining of crude oil. Both processes are integral to optimizing the properties and environmental compliance of refined petroleum products.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Hydrocracking
      – Definition, Steps, Uses
2. What is Hydrotreating
      – Definition, Features, Uses
3. Similarities Between Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating
      – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating
      – Comparison of Key Differences
5. FAQ: Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating
      – Frequently Asked Questions

Key Terms

Hydrocracking, Hydrotreating

Difference Between Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating - Comparison Summary

What is Hydrocracking

Hydrocracking is a catalytic chemical process that takes place under elevated temperature and pressure conditions. The primary objectives of hydrocracking include the conversion of heavy feedstocks, such as vacuum gas oil or residual oil, into lighter and more valuable products like gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. The process also facilitates the removal of impurities, such as sulfur, nitrogen, and metals, contributing to the production of cleaner and more environmentally friendly fuels.

The hydrocracking process involves several key steps. The resulting mixture of hydrocracked products is then separated into various fractions using distillation and other separation techniques. This allows for the isolation of specific products, such as gasoline, diesel, and other valuable hydrocarbons. Initially, the feedstock, a heavy and complex mixture of hydrocarbon molecules, is prepared. Hydrogen is then introduced into the system to facilitate the breakdown of large hydrocarbons, a crucial step in converting them into smaller, more valuable fragments.

Catalysts play a pivotal role in the hydrocracking process, with metals like platinum, palladium, or nickel often supported on materials such as zeolites. These catalysts accelerate the chemical reactions that occur in the reaction zone, a high-pressure reactor where feedstock, hydrogen, and catalyst come together under carefully controlled temperature and pressure conditions.

Compare Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating

The chemical reactions involved in hydrocracking include cracking, isomerization, and other transformations. These aim to optimize the conversion of heavy and less valuable hydrocarbons into lighter and more valuable end products. The resulting mixture undergoes product separation, with techniques like distillation to isolate specific fractions such as gasoline, diesel, and other valuable hydrocarbons.

Hydrocracking has a substantial impact on refined product production, contributing to the production of high-octane gasoline, improved-quality diesel, jet fuels meeting aviation standards, and high-quality lubricant base oils with enhanced viscosity and thermal stability. This process aligns with the industry’s goal of meeting the demand for cleaner and more efficient fuels.

What is Hydrotreating

Hydrotreating is a crucial process in the refining of petroleum that plays a key role in improving the quality and performance of various refined products. The primary objective of hydrotreating is to remove impurities and enhance the properties of hydrocarbons through the introduction of hydrogen under high pressure and elevated temperature conditions.

The process involves passing the hydrocarbon feedstock, typically fractions obtained from crude oil, through a reactor where it comes into contact with a catalyst, often composed of metals like nickel or molybdenum supported on materials such as alumina. The presence of hydrogen and the catalytic action work together to facilitate a range of reactions, including desulfurization, denitrification, and the saturation of olefins. These reactions result in the removal of sulfur, nitrogen, and other undesirable elements from the hydrocarbons.

Hydrocracking vs Hydrotreating

Desulfurization is particularly important in hydrotreating, as sulfur compounds can have detrimental effects on the environment and the performance of downstream catalysts. By breaking down these sulfur-containing compounds, hydrotreating helps produce cleaner and environmentally compliant fuels, contributing to reduced emissions during combustion.

Hydrotreating is widely employed in the production of various refined products, including gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. The resulting treated hydrocarbons exhibit improved stability, reduced corrosiveness, and enhanced combustion characteristics. Additionally, hydrotreating is instrumental in meeting stringent regulatory requirements for low-sulfur fuels, aligning with industry efforts to produce cleaner and more sustainable energy sources. In essence, hydrotreating plays a crucial role in ensuring the quality, environmental compliance, and overall efficiency of refined petroleum products.

Similarities Between Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating

  • Both hydrocracking and hydrotreating processes involve the introduction of hydrogen into the system.
  • Catalysts are employed in both hydrocracking and hydrotreating to enhance the efficiency of chemical reactions.

Difference Between Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating


Hydrocracking is a refining process that involves the breaking down of large hydrocarbons into smaller fragments using hydrogen and a catalyst. Hydrotreating is a refining process that uses hydrogen and a catalyst to remove impurities, such as sulfur and nitrogen, from hydrocarbons.


The primary goal of hydrocracking is to break down large and heavy hydrocarbons into lighter and more valuable products. Hydrotreating is designed to remove impurities from crude oil fractions or intermediate products.


Hydrocracking involves breaking chemical bonds in hydrocarbon molecules through processes such as cracking and isomerization. Meanwhile, hydrotreating reactions primarily involve the addition of hydrogen to undesirable compounds, leading to hydrogenation.


Moreover, hydrocracking typically results in a higher yield of lighter hydrocarbons, including high-octane gasoline and diesel, whereas hydrotreating may result in a broader range of products, with a focus on removing impurities rather than maximizing the yield of specific valuable hydrocarbons.

FAQ: Hydrocracking and Hydrotreating

What is the difference between FCC (fluid catalytic cracking) and hydrocracking?

Hydrocracking, in contrast to FCC, is a two-stage process involving hydrogenation of the hydrocarbons and catalytic cracking into small chain molecules.

What is the disadvantage of hydrotreating?

Hydrotreating requires a high capital investment, and the operation cost is high.

What is hydrotreating also known as?

Hydrotreating is also known as “hydrofinishing” or “hydrodesulfurization” (HDS).


1. “Hydrocracking.” Science Direct.
2. “Hydrotreating.” Science Direct.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Hydrocracking process flow diagram” توسط قلی زادگان – Hyrdocracking (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia 
2. “Nht-unit-en” By FrankvEck – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Hasini A

Hasini is a graduate of Applied Science with a strong background in forestry, environmental science, chemistry, and management science. She is an amateur photographer with a keen interest in exploring the wonders of nature and science.

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