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What is Ethane?

By Amy Dyslex
Updated May 21, 2024
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Ethane is a hydrocarbon compound that exists in nature as an odorless and colorless gas at standard temperature and pressure. Due to the presence of a single bond in its structure, it is classified as an alkane hydrocarbon and is included in the first four primary alkanes: methane, ethane, propane, and butane. Ethane was first discovered by Michael Faraday in 1834, when he electrolyzed a solution of potassium aceatate. The name "ethane" has been derived from "ether," where the later comes from Latin aether and Greek aithēr, meaning "upper air."

The chemical formula for ethane gas is C2H6, which includes it in the paraffin series, which support a standard formula of CnH2n+2. It is a stable compound and shows resistance to reactivity. It has a molar mass of 30.07 grams per mole (g/mol). The melting point of ethane is -181.76° C (89.34 K) whereas its boiling point stands at -88.6° C (184.5 K).

Due to its non-polar nature, it is soluble in polar solvents like water. Typically, the solubility of ethane is quite low for the formation of a homogeneous solution at room temperature. As is the case with all alkanes, it is also highly combustible. The complete combustion of the gas produces carbon dioxide and water along with the release of 1561 kilo joules per mole (kJ/mol).

Incomplete or partial combustion of the gas leads to the production of single-carbon compounds like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Additional trivial products produced during ethane's partial combustion are acetaldehyde, methanol, ethanol, and methane. Structurally, it possesses one of the simplest lattices amongst all alkanes, consisting of a single carbon-carbon bond.

Ethane is categorized as a clean fuel and is also the second main constituent of natural gas after methane. Apart from natural gas, it also naturally occurs as a dissolved component in petroleum oil. Other than this, it is a chief by-product during the operations involving the refinery of oil and coal-carbonization.

Ethane is primarily used for the production of ethylene through the process of steam-cracking. Generally, this procedure makes use of some other agent for the reduction of hydrogen other than oxygen. The reaction is carried out at higher temperatures, between a range of 600° - 900° C (873.15 - 1,173.15 K). Ethylene is a significant commercial product, widely used for quickening the process of food ripening, the manufacture of welding gas, and a chief component in the production of Levinstein sulfur mustard, a deadly chemical weapon gas.

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Discussion Comments

By anon333640 — On May 07, 2013

I need to describe a reaction where ethane is changed into a different compound. Any ideas?

By ElizaBennett — On Jun 14, 2011

They do have pretty similar chemical structures, apparently. An ethane molecule, as the article says, is C2H6, and ethanol is C2H6OH (so just has two extra atoms). Ethanol is a product of the "incomplete combustion" of ethane, but I know that ethanol is usually made from corn, so I don't know. Ethane apparently is usually extracted from natural gas.

Ethanol isn't just a fuel--it's also the kind of alcohol that you can drink.

By MrsWinslow — On Jun 13, 2011

What is the relationship between ethane and ethanol? I know that they are obviously different things, but both are supposed to be clean fuels, right? Is there some similarity in their chemical structure? Or do they just have similar names?

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