Ethane

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What is Ethane?

Ethane is one of the simplest hydrocarbons we come across while studying organic chemistry. Hydrocarbons, as the name suggests, are nothing but organic compounds made of only hydrogen (H) and carbon(C) bonds. The first in the family of hydrocarbon is Methane, which is formed by one atom of carbon and four atoms of hydrogen. When two atoms of carbon and six atoms of hydrogen bond together, we get one molecule of Ethane. 


It is second in the family of hydrocarbons after Methane (CH4) and was created artificially by Michael Faraday in 1834. Ethane is also known as Methyl methane, Bimethyl, Dimethyl, and Ethyl hydride.


The chemical formula or the molecular formula of ethane is C2H6. Looking closely at the structure, we can see that two atoms of carbon have bonded together and three hydrogen atoms are attached to each of the two carbon atoms on either side. It is thus structurally represented as or the structure of ethane is CH3-CH3.


The Lewis-dot structure of ethane will also represent the single bonding of two carbon atoms with each other, and each of the carbon atoms is bonded by three hydrogen atoms.  The dot structure figure which has dots represent the valence electrons of atoms. 


The atoms of both carbon and hydrogen here are bonded in single bonds. When hydrocarbons are formed by carbon-containing single bonds, they are called saturated hydrocarbons. Saturated hydrocarbons are also called alkanes. 

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Molecular Structure

Its molecular structure is like a straight-chain with only a single carbon-carbon bond. This also makes it the simplest hydrocarbon.


A straight-chain molecule has all the carbon atoms arranged in straight line appearing as a row of train coaches. It has a tetrahedral geometry shape and its carbon atoms have sp3 hybridization. 


It can also be formed by substituting one hydrogen atom in Methane (CH4) with another sp3 hybridized carbon fragment. Or simply stated, it can be reached at by replacing of a CH3 group, called a methyl group, for one hydrogen of methane. 


Physical Properties 

Ethane is a natural gas which is found abundantly in nature. Being a greenhouse gas it is found in fossil fuels. In the composition of natural gas, it is found in 5 – 10% concentration. 


Ethane is an important constituent of natural gas and a primary gaseous fuel in the petrochemical industry.


Under normal temperature and pressure conditions, ethane remains as colourless, odourless, and is a highly flammable gas. 


The alkane has a melting point of -182.8 °C and boiling point of 89 °C. Alkanes with a larger number of carbon atoms have higher melting and boiling points. Leaving the first four alkanes, starting from Methane to Propane, as we go higher the alkanes table, we find the boiling point substantially rise.


Ethane is partially soluble in water and is lighter than air. With changes in the parameters of temperature and pressure, it can be changed into other states of existence like solid. 


Chemical Properties

After methane, ethane is found in the second-largest quantity as the constituent of natural gas. This hydrocarbon is extracted from natural gas and by petroleum refining. 


It acts as a raw material for the production of ethylene by the process of pyrolysis. 

⟶    CH3CH3 CH2CH2 + H2

In several gas processing plants and units, ethane is separated from the other constituents of natural gas. It can be produced using sodium propionate in the laboratory method. 


I mole of C atom equals to 12.01 g and 1 mol of H atom equals to 1.0079 g. So, upon calculation, 1 molecule of C2H6 or the molar mass of C2H6 is 30.07 g. 


Plastic crystals start to appear when ethane is cooled under normal pressure. At this state, hydrogen atoms do not have a fixed position and can rotate freely.


Ethane can also be easily created in laboratories using Kolbe electrolysis where a solution of acetate salt is electrolysed. 


Uses of Ethane

The uses of ethane are as follows:

  • Ethane is primarily used as the raw material for the production of ethylene for further production of plastics, fruit ripening and detergent making

  • In scientific researches, it is used in liquid form for vitrifying water-rich materials

  • It can also be used for producing ethyl alcohol, acetic acids or other similar organic compounds

  • It can also be liquefied for use as fuel for automobiles

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Ethane?

Ethane is a component of natural gas. It is a hydrocarbon made of hydrogen and carbon. Ethane has 80:20 ratio of carbon and hydrogen. It is flammable and when it undergoes combustion, it leaves water and carbon dioxide. As hydrocarbons are chiefly used as fuels, it can be separated from petroleum and liquefied and can be used as fuel for automobiles. People use natural gas for cooking and other domestic purposes. Ethane finds a use for those purposes also. Ethane is used to produce ethylene by the process of steam cracking. It can be separated from methane easily under low temperatures.

2. Where is Ethane Found?

It is an organic hydrocarbon or naturally found compound of carbon and hydrogen. It is widely found under the ground in the natural gas deposit. Here it is found as a mixture of natural gas or with other components like sulphur, carbon dioxide, etc. and hydrocarbons. Underground it can be found in good quantity in shale and coal beds. It can also be isolated from natural gas. It is now being done on an industrial scale, as ethane is also used as an alternative source of energy in fuels etc. There are several countries including the USA and Saudi Arabia who have been producing it on an industrial scale.