Butane: Definition, Properties & Formula

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

Danielle has taught middle school science and has a doctorate degree in Environmental Health

Butane is a flammable alkane gas that is commonly bottled and used as fuel. Learn about butane's chemical background, structure, formula, and properties. Updated: 10/28/2021

Chemical Background on Butane

Have you ever gone camping and needed a lighter to get your cooking grill started? Widely available in stores, you may have come across a type of lighter called a butane torch or butane lighter. This product is made of the compound we will be discussing. Butane is a hydrocarbon compound classified as a type of alkane. Alkanes are hydrocarbons that consist of carbon atoms single bonded to each other. Don't be alarmed if you can't find a double or triple bond in the structure of an alkane compound. They're not present in alkane molecules, such as butane; only single bonds are present.

Regarding the source of butane in our environment, it's found deep within our earth's ground as a natural gas. When drilling deep into the ground, natural gases can be trapped and used in industry for a variety of commercial products. The following diagram illustrates where butane gas may be found and trapped for industry use:

Diagram 1: Illustration of butane as a natural gas
NG drill

You could find butane gas in the following three sources you may be familiar with:

  1. That awesome torch used in kitchens to give your crème brulée that hard, caramelized top layer
  2. Lighter fuel
  3. Cigarette lighters.

Another source is in the production of gasoline blending to make gasoline fuel for commercial use. Keep in mind that when used for the production of commercial items, butane gas is often mixed with other gases, such as propane. When mixed, it's no longer in its pure form, but is instead considered a liquefied gas. Speaking of liquefied gases, would you be surprised if I told you butane can be a gas and liquid at the same time? It sure can! First, let's go over the structure and formula of butane. We will then discuss what butane liquefied gas is.

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  • 0:02 Chemical Background on Butane
  • 1:44 Structure and Formula…
  • 2:50 Porperties of Butane
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Structure and Formula of Butane

Butane's molecular formula is C4H10. The structure of butane is shown in the new diagram below:

Diagram 2: Molecular structure of butane

It's worth noting that butane is also referred to as n-butane. Don't be fooled by the term n-butane. Although it's a different name, butane and n-butane refer to the same compound. Based on the diagram, butane is considered to be an alkane. It not only contains single covalent bonds, but also has carbon and hydrogen atoms present in its structure.

Regarding the structure of butane, it has a constitutional isomer named isobutane. But wait, what is a constitutional isomer? An isomer is a different structure of a molecule whose chemical formula remains the same. A constitutional isomer is a type of isomer where the order of bonds or connectivity of atoms is arranged in such a way to produce different structures. The structure of isobutane is shown in the next diagram below:

Diagram 3: Molecular structure of isobutane

When comparing both structures to one another, isobutane is a branched chain, while butane is a linear chain.

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