Om Kumar
Created by: Om Kumar, Last Updated: April 2, 2024


Methane is a simple but very important covalent compound in the world of chemistry. It consists of one carbon atom bonded tightly to four hydrogen atoms. This gas can be found in natural environments, such as swamps and landfills, and is also a major component of natural gas, making it a key source of energy for heating and cooking in our homes. The study of methane helps us understand the basics of chemical bonds and how elements come together to form compounds. By exploring methane, we gain insights into both the natural processes that produce it and the human activities that release it into the atmosphere, highlighting its significance in our daily lives and the environment.

What is Methane ?

Methane(CH₄) is a colorless, odorless gas that plays a crucial role in both the environment and the energy sector. It is the simplest form of a hydrocarbon, consisting of one carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms (CH₄). This covalent compound is a primary component of natural gas, making it a significant source of fuel used for heating, cooking, and generating electricity. Methane is also naturally produced through the decomposition of organic matter in environments like wetlands and as a byproduct of digestive processes in certain animals. Due to its potent greenhouse effect, methane is also a key focus in discussions about climate change and environmental protection.

Chemical Names and Formulas

Property Value
Formula  CH₄
Name  Methane
Alternate Names  Biogas, Fire Damp, Freon 50, Marsh Gas, Methyl Hydride, R-50, Carbane

Structure of Methane

Structure of Methane (CH₄)

The structure of methane is characterized by its simple and symmetric shape, where one carbon atom sits at the center, bonded to four hydrogen atoms in a tetrahedral arrangement. This configuration gives methane its stability and gaseous state at room temperature. The bonds between the carbon and hydrogen atoms are covalent, meaning they share electrons to form a strong connection. This tetrahedral structure is a fundamental concept in chemistry, illustrating how atoms can come together to form molecules in a specific geometric pattern.

Preparation of Methane

The preparation of methane can be achieved through various methods, among which the decarboxylation of sodium acetate and the hydrolysis of aluminium carbide are notable.

Decarboxylation of Sodium Acetate: This process involves heating sodium acetate with soda lime (a mixture of NaOH and CaO). Soda lime acts as a catalyst in the reaction and facilitates the removal of a carbon dioxide molecule from sodium acetate, resulting in the formation of methane. The chemical equation for this reaction is as follows:

CH₃COONa + NaOH → CH₄ + Na₂CO₃

Hydrolysis of Aluminium Carbide: Another method to prepare methane is by reacting aluminium carbide (3Al₄C₃​) with water. This reaction produces methane gas and aluminium hydroxide as by-products. The reaction can be represented by the following chemical equation

Al₄C₃ + 12H₂​O→ 4Al(OH)₃ + 3CH₄

These methods demonstrate the versatile approaches to synthesizing methane, highlighting its significance in both industrial applications and laboratory settings.

Physical Properties of Methane

Property Value/Description
Molecular Formula CH₄
Molecular Weight 16.04 g/mol
State at Room Temperature Gas
Color Colorless
Odor Odorless
Boiling Point -161.5 °C (111.65 K)
Melting Point -182.5 °C (90.65 K)
Density 0.656 kg/m³ (gas at 0°C and 1 atm)
Solubility in Water Low
Specific Gravity 0.554 (air=1)
Heat of Combustion -890 kJ/mol

Chemical Properties of Methane


Methane combusts in the presence of oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water, releasing a significant amount of energy. This reaction is fundamental to methane’s use as a fuel.

Equation: CH₄ + 2O₂ → CO₂ +  2H₂​O + Energy


Methane reacts with halogens under specific conditions in a substitution reaction, where hydrogen atoms are replaced by halogen atoms. For example, the reaction with chlorine in the presence of light or heat produces chloromethane and hydrochloric acid.

Equation: CH₄ ​+ Cl₂ → ​CH₃​Cl + HCl


When methane is subjected to high temperatures (usually in the absence of oxygen), it decomposes into hydrogen and solid carbon. This process is known as pyrolysis or cracking.

Equation: CH₄ → C + 2H₂

Steam Reforming

Methane reacts with steam at high temperatures to produce carbon monoxide and hydrogen. This reaction is critical in the industrial production of hydrogen and synthesis gas (syngas).

Equation: CH₄ ​+ H₂​O → CO + 3H₂

Reaction with Oxygenates

Methane can react with oxygen-containing compounds under certain conditions. For example, with oxygen, it can form methanol, although this requires a catalyst and high pressure.
Equation: CH₄​ + O₂ → ​CH₃​OH

Methane (CH₄​) Chemical Compound Information

Chemical Identifiers

Property Value
CAS Registry Number 74-82-8
Beilstein Number 1718732
PubChem Compound ID 297
PubChem Substance ID 24857787
SMILES Identifier C
InChI Identifier InChI=1/CH4/h1H4
RTECS Number PA1490000
MDL Number MFCD00008279

NFPA label

Property Value
NFPA Health Rating 2
NFPA Fire Rating 4
NFPA Reactivity Rating 0

Uses of Methane (CH₄​)

Uses of Methane (CH₄)


Methane is a primary component of natural gas, making it a crucial energy source for heating, cooking, and electricity generation due to its high combustion efficiency.

Chemical Industry

It serves as a key raw material in the production of hydrogen, methanol, and other chemicals through processes like steam reforming and methanol synthesis.


Compressed natural gas (CNG), which is primarily methane, is used as a cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel in vehicles.

Fertilizer Production

Methane is a starting material in the Haber process for synthesizing ammonia, which is then used to produce fertilizers.

Waste Management

Methane is generated as a byproduct of organic waste decomposition in landfills and can be captured to use as a renewable energy source, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Power Generation

Methane captured from biogas facilities (from waste treatment plants or agricultural waste) can be used to generate electricity in power plants.

Benefits Of Methane (CH₄​)

Energy Production

Methane is a key component of natural gas, used widely for generating electricity and heating, offering a cleaner burn compared to other fossil fuels.

Fuel for Vehicles

Converted into CNG or LNG, methane serves as a cleaner alternative to gasoline and diesel for vehicles, reducing air pollution.

Chemical Industry Raw Material

As a vital raw material in the chemical industry, methane is used to produce essential chemicals for plastics, synthetic fibers, and pharmaceuticals.

Waste Management

Capturing methane from landfills allows its use as an energy source, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and harnessing value from waste.

Agricultural Benefits

Through biogas production from organic waste, methane provides renewable energy for electricity, heating, or fuel, contributing to sustainable agriculture.

Heating and Cooking

Methane is widely used for cooking and heating due to its efficiency and clean combustion, making it a preferred choice in households.

Economic Growth

The extraction and processing of methane create jobs and foster economic growth, particularly in methane-producing regions.

Energy Security

Methane enhances energy security by diversifying energy sources and reducing reliance on oil, contributing to national stability.

Side Effects Of  Methane (CH₄​)

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change more significantly than CO₂ over the short term, mainly due to emissions from agriculture, waste management, and fossil fuels.

Air Quality Degradation

Leaking methane can form ground-level ozone, reducing air quality, affecting human health, agricultural productivity, and ecosystems.

Health Risks

High methane levels can displace oxygen, posing suffocation risks, especially in confined areas.

Environmental Impact

Leaks from gas systems and landfills can harm local ecosystems and waste energy that could be used for heating or electricity.

Safety Hazards

Methane’s flammability presents risks of explosions and fires in areas where it accumulates, necessitating stringent management to prevent accidents.


What Does Methane Do to Humans?

Methane in high concentrations can displace oxygen, potentially causing suffocation. Normally, it’s non-toxic and poses little direct risk at low levels.

Where Is Methane Found?

Methane is found in natural gas deposits, landfills, wetlands, and as a byproduct of agricultural activities, especially from livestock.

Why Is Methane Bad for Earth?

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, contributing significantly to global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere more effectively than CO2.

What Does Methane Smell Like?

Methane is odorless. The distinctive smell associated with natural gas is added for safety reasons to detect leaks.

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