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Okay, just to give an idea of my current understanding. Reforming is a step one can do after one has cracked some hydrocarbons. As such, the process of reforming is dependent on a separate process, cracking. What it involves is cracking the hydrocarbons, then putting them together in new ways, whilst still having the same chemical formula. In a sense, one is reversing the work done by the cracking, since that is a process that changes the chemical formula, however, when one puts the molecules back together, one changes them structurally. Basically, one is making isomers.

However, I do wonder if reformation also includes the saturation of hydrocarbons; as in, making alkenes and alkynes into alkanes. This obviously requires cracking, since double and triple bonds must be broken down into single bonds. If this is a part of reformation, that would mean the term applies to a wider process than just making isomers, since an alkane cannot be an isomer of an alkene/alkyne.

Perhaps isomerization is the creation of isomers, but within any field of chemistry, whereas reforming applies specifically to petrochemistry?

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  • $\begingroup$ Generally speaking, reforming is not that exact in that you will produce a range of compounds. Since these compounds do not have the same chemical formulas as the original, it should not be considered an isomerization in the strictest sense. $\endgroup$ – Zhe Dec 13 '20 at 2:12
  • $\begingroup$ Okay so would for example the conversion of an alkene to an alkane fall under the category of reforming @Zhe? Also, is reforming basically just taking mostly linear hydrocarbons and turning them into non-linear hydrocarbons, that may differ in chemical formula from their original chemical formulas? $\endgroup$ – A. Kvåle Dec 13 '20 at 10:50
  • $\begingroup$ The general conversion of an alkene to alkane is not reforming. An example would be cracking the alkene into smaller pieces, which reform into a different compound, an alkene. Note that this specific example is not an isomerization in any step, since compounds of different chemical formulas are generated at each step, including the overall process. The exception in the overall transformation would be a monoalkene to a cycloalkane of the same formula. $\endgroup$ – Zhe Dec 13 '20 at 17:56
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TL;DR: Isomerization is a subpart of reforming process. There are four major reforming reactions. Isomerization is one of them.


Reforming is a processing technique by which the molecular structure of a hydrocarbon is rearranged to alter its properties. The process is frequently applied to low-quality gasoline stocks to improve their octane number and thereby improving combustion.

There are four major types of reforming process:

  1. Dehydrogenation of naphthenes

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  1. Dehydrogenation and aromatization of paraffins to aromatics (dehydrocyclization)

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  1. Hydrocracking of paraffins

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  1. Isomerization of normal paraffins to isoparaffins

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You can see that during all the process except isomerization, there is a loss of atoms either carbon or hydrogen. However, there is no change of atoms during isomerization process.

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  • $\begingroup$ So cracking is a part of reforming? And why is it only dehydrogenation that is a part of reforming? Why isn't hydrogenation a part of reforming? As in, making alkenes and alkynes into alkanes? $\endgroup$ – A. Kvåle Dec 15 '20 at 11:09
  • $\begingroup$ @A.Kvåle 1. Yes 2. No 3. Hydrogenation comes under hydrocracking. This process is made up of two reaction a) hydrogenation b) cracking. In cracking, the heavier hydrocarbons are broken into smaller hydrocarbons and in hydrogenation, the aromatics and olefins(if any present) are converted into alkanes and cycloalkanes. This two reaction goes hand in hand. The example shown is actually cracking. $\endgroup$ – Nilay Ghosh Dec 15 '20 at 14:43
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Isomerization is a process in which any compound converts itself into its isometric forms. The chemical composition remains the same, but the structure & configuration of the molecule of the compound changes.

Coming to reforming. Reforming is a technique through which molecular structure of a hydrocarbon can be rearranged to alter its properties. This is basic definition of reforming.

So, you can now conclude the differences between the two.

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    $\begingroup$ You should give an example to showcase the difference. $\endgroup$ – Nilay Ghosh Dec 13 '20 at 8:01
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry. I currently don't have any examples with me. $\endgroup$ – Abhigyan Kumar Dec 13 '20 at 9:09

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