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Created by: Team Chemistry -, Last Updated: May 24, 2024


Ethane is a simple chemical compound that plays an essential role in chemistry. It consists of two carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms, making its molecular formula C₂H₆. Ethane is a colorless, odorless gas found in natural gas and petroleum. It is a key building block in the production of various chemicals and plastics. Understanding ethane helps us to grasp basic concepts in organic chemistry, as it represents one of the simplest hydrocarbons in the alkane family.

What is Ethane?

Ethane is a colorless, odorless gas that belongs to the alkane family of hydrocarbons. It has the chemical formula C₂H₆, meaning it consists of two carbon atoms and six hydrogen atoms. Ethane is also known as methyl methane. This simple hydrocarbon is found in natural gas and is used as a fuel and a building block for various chemicals.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Hill FormulaC₂H₆
Alternate NamesBimethyl, Dimethyl, Ethyl Hydride, Freon 170, Methylmethane, R-170

Structure of Ethane

Structure of Ethane

Ethane has a simple structure where two carbon atoms are bonded together, and each carbon atom is bonded to three hydrogen atoms. The carbon atoms form a single covalent bond between them, making the formula C₂H₆. The structure is often represented as H₃C-CH₃, showing that each carbon atom is surrounded by three hydrogen atoms. This arrangement creates a tetrahedral shape around each carbon, giving ethane its stable structure.

Preparation of Ethane

You can prepare ethane in the laboratory through a process called Wurtz reaction. In this method, you react bromoethane (C₂H₅Br) with sodium (Na) in the presence of dry ether. The reaction combines two bromoethane molecules, resulting in the formation of ethane and sodium bromide.

The chemical equation for this reaction is:

2 C₂H₅Br + 2 Na → C₂H₆ + 2 NaBr

In this equation, two molecules of bromoethane react with two sodium atoms to produce one molecule of ethane and two molecules of sodium bromide. This method is commonly used in organic chemistry to create simple alkanes like ethane

Physical Properties of Ethane

State at Room TemperatureGas
Boiling Point-88.6°C
Melting Point-182.8°C
Density1.26 kg/m³ (at 15°C)
Solubility in WaterSlightly soluble
Molecular Weight30.07 g/mol

Chemical Properties of Ethane


  • Ethane reacts with oxygen during combustion to produce carbon dioxide, water, and heat. This reaction makes ethane a good fuel source.
  • Equation: 2 C₂H₆ + 7 O₂ → 4 CO₂ + 6 H₂O + heat


  • Ethane reacts with halogens, like chlorine or bromine, in the presence of light or heat. This reaction produces haloalkanes. For example, ethane reacts with chlorine to form chloroethane and hydrogen chloride.
  • Equation: 2H₆ + Cl₂ → C₂H₅Cl + HCl


  • Ethane undergoes cracking when heated to high temperatures, breaking down into smaller molecules like ethylene (ethene) and hydogen. This reaction is useful in the petrochemical industry.
  • Equation: C₂H₆ → C₂H₄ + H₂

Ethane Chemical Compound Information

Chemical Identifiers

CAS Registry Number74-84-0
Beilstein Number1730716
PubChem Compound ID6324
PubChem Substance ID24857772
SMILES IdentifierCC
InChI IdentifierInChI=1/C2H6/c1-2/h1-2H3
RTECS NumberKH3800000
MDL NumberMFCD00009023

NFPA Label

NFPA Health Rating1
NFPA Fire Rating4
NFPA Reactivity Rating0

Uses of Ethane


Ethane is used as a fuel in power plants and heating systems. It burns cleanly, producing energy, carbon dioxide, and water.

Petrochemical Industry

Ethane is a key raw material in the petrochemical industry. It is cracked to produce ethylene, which is used to make plastics, antifreeze, and detergents.


Ethane is used as a refrigerant in cryogenic refrigeration systems due to its low boiling point. It helps in cooling processes that require very low temperatures.


Ethane is used in welding and cutting metals. Its high heat of combustion makes it effective for these applications.

Laboratory Research

Ethane is used in laboratories for various research purposes. It serves as a standard gas for calibrating equipment and studying reactions.

Production of Ethanol

Ethane can be converted into ethanol, a valuable industrial and fuel chemical. This conversion is achieved through a series of chemical reactions.

Benefits of Ethane

  • Efficient Energy Source: Ethane provides a high energy yield when burned, making it an efficient fuel for heating and power generation. It burns cleanly, reducing environmental pollution.
  • Versatile Chemical Feedstock: Ethane serves as a versatile feedstock in the petrochemical industry. It can be converted into various valuable chemicals like ethylene, which is used to make a wide range of products.
  • Low Environmental Impact: Ethane combustion produces fewer pollutants compared to other hydrocarbons. It emits less carbon monoxide and particulate matter, contributing to cleaner air.
  • Cost-Effective: Ethane is abundant and relatively inexpensive to produce. Its availability and cost-effectiveness make it a practical choice for industrial applications.
  • Reliable Refrigerant: Ethane’s low boiling point makes it an effective refrigerant in cryogenic systems. It enables efficient cooling in scientific and industrial processes.
  • Supports Industrial Processes: Ethane supports various industrial processes, including welding and metal cutting. Its high combustion heat enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of these applications.

Side Effects of Ethane

  • Health Hazards: Ethane exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, and respiratory issues if inhaled in large quantities.
  • Flammability: Ethane is highly flammable and can pose a fire hazard if not handled properly.
  • Environmental Impact: Although cleaner than some fuels, ethane combustion still produces carbon dioxide, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Explosive Potential: Ethane can form explosive mixtures with air, posing a risk in enclosed spaces.
  • Handling Risks: Improper handling of ethane, especially in liquid form, can lead to frostbite or cold burns.
  • Transportation Dangers: Transporting ethane requires strict safety measures to prevent leaks, spills, or accidents.

Is ethane gas toxic?

Ethane gas is not considered highly toxic, but inhaling large quantities can cause dizziness, headaches, and respiratory issues.

Is ethane a gas or liquid?

Ethane is a gas at room temperature and atmospheric pressure. It can be liquefied under high pressure or low temperatures.

What is the common name for ethane?

The common name for ethane is “methyl methane.” It is a simple hydrocarbon in the alkane family.

Is ethane toxic to humans?

Ethane is not highly toxic to humans, but excessive inhalation can cause respiratory problems and central nervous system effects.

What is ethane found in?

Ethane is commonly found in natural gas and petroleum. It is also present in small amounts in volcanic gases and some plants.

Is ethane used for food?

Ethane is not used directly for food. It is mainly utilized in industrial processes and as a feedstock in chemical production.

What are cool facts about ethane?

Ethane is a major component of natural gas, burns cleanly, and can be used to produce ethylene, a key ingredient in plastics.

What produces ethane?

Farmers use ethene (ethylene) to ripen fruits and regulate plant growth. It accelerates the ripening process and enhances crop yield.

Where is ethene commonly found?

Ethene is commonly found in ripening fruits, vehicle emissions, and as a byproduct of industrial processes. It is also present in natural gas.

Why do farmers use ethene?

Farmers use ethene (ethylene) to ripen fruits and regulate plant growth. It accelerates the ripening process and enhances crop yield.

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