Butyl: Structure, Uses & Formula

Instructor: Danielle Reid

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

Butyl is an organic compound that can be derived from the compound butane. Read through this lesson to learn about the functional group butyl. Discover the structure of butyl, its formula, as well as its uses for our everyday lives.

What is Butyl?

Have you ever wondered what makes up the lotions and sprays you use on a daily basis? What compounds are found in perfumes, insect repellants and sunscreen, for instance? One compound that plays a role in the production of these items and many more is called butyl.

Butyl is an organic functional group whose roots of origin stem from the compound butane. Butane is an organic compound that is classified as a type of alkane. Butane is a molecule that contains 4 carbon atoms single bonded to 10 hydrogen atoms. So how does butyl's roots go all the way back to its ancestor butane? Although a fairly small ancestry tree, diagram 1 shows how butyl's roots trace back to butane.

Diagram 1: Location of Butyl In Relation To Butane and Alkanes


Looking closely in diagram 1 above, you will see the molecular formulas for butane and butyl. Do you notice something similar between both formulas? The number of carbon atoms is the same, but there is a slight difference in hydrogen atom count. It appears we are missing one hydrogen atom from butyl. Butane's molecular formula is C4H10, while butyl's molecular formula is R-C4H9. The R group in butyl refers to its ability to bond with other compounds, such as our friends from the alcohol or carboxyl functional groups. This 'loss' in a hydrogen atom paves the way for butyl to have a single bond available for chemical bonding with other molecules.


Understanding butyl's roots, let's focus on its structure. Diagram 2 shows the molecular structure of both butane and butyl. It is helpful to show the relationship between the two, as this comparison is a great reminder of what a butyl group is. From what we learned regarding butyl's ancestral roots, there is definitely a noticeable similarity between both structures of butane and butyl. Again, the difference resides in the ability to attach an R group in the butyl structure as opposed to butane.

Diagram 2: Molecular structure of (a) Butane and (b) Butyl
buytl structure

Butyl has different structural forms (i.e isomers). As you see in diagram 3, butyl has 4 different isomers: n-butyl, s-butyl, t-butyl, and isobutyl. These are isomers because the structure may look different between each group, but the molecular formula (R-C4H9) has not changed.

Let's step back for a minute and think about these different isomers -- can you imagine all of the different compounds that can be created? Not only does variation exist with the R group, but we also have variation in the structure of butyl. This double dose of variation opens the door to the formation of numerous compounds that all contain the butyl group. It is this variation and creation of different organic compounds that influences the wide variety of sources where butyl is found.

Diagram 3: Isomers of Butyl
butyl isomer

Many Uses For Butyl

Butyl can be used to make products ranging from leather to even rubber! Another use for butyl is the production of gasoline as a fuel source. The table shown below provides a small snapshot of different products that all use the butyl functional group during chemical processing.

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