How does alkane burn

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Alkanes: Introduction

The alkanes are a subfamily of hydrocarbons, i.e. organic compounds that consist only of carbon and hydrogen. They are also called saturated hydrocarbons. They only contain C-C single bonds. Other hydrocarbons are e.g. the alkenes, alkynes and aromatics. The latter are known as unsaturated hydrocarbons because they contain C-C double and C-C triple bonds.

Clicking on the structural formulas in the following table calls up the 3D views of the molecules.

Tab. 1
Examples of saturated (alkanes) and unsaturated hydrocarbons (alkenes, alkynes, aromatics)

Table with names and spellings of alkanes

Alkanes are the main components of crude oil and natural gas and are therefore not only the main source of energy, but also the most important raw material in the chemical industry. In the past, the alkanes were also called paraffins (from Latin parum affinis, "little inclined"), because they are slow to react and do not mix with water.

A distinction is made between linear (unbranched or n-) alkanes, branched alkanes and cycloalkanes. Linear and branched alkanes have the empirical formula CnH2n + 2, cyclic alkanes are richer in carbon with C.nH2n.

Toxicology of alkanes:

Many of the higher alkanes have a characteristic odor. Proteins found in the membranes of the olfactory nerves bind the odorous substances. The change in conformation of these proteins sends a signal to the brain that contains information about the smell. Alkanes are therefore one of the compounds that act as pheromones. These are compounds that in nature serve as signaling substances for communication between members of the same species.

An environmentally friendly and ecologically safe method of pest control are insect traps with sexual attractants. For example, 2-methylheptadecane and 17,21-dimethylheptatriacontane are the sexual attractants of the tiger moth and the tsetse fly.


The Roman scholar Pliny the Elder Ä. (23-79 AD) made an early account of crude oil. He referred to it as naphtha (gr.), a word that has its origins in the Babylonian naptu ("to burn").