Ethylene: Properties & Uses

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: John Williams
Ethylene is a colorless and flammable hydrocarbon that is useful in commercial and biological applications. Learn about the structure, properties, and commercial/biological uses of ethylene. Updated: 09/15/2021

Ethylene - Structure & Properties

Hydrocarbons are molecules that contain hydrogen and carbon. These molecules vary widely in terms of the numbers of carbons and hydrogens, the numbers of single and double bonds, and the structural orientation of each component. Therefore, it is possible to have extremely small hydrocarbons, such as methane, and extremely large hydrocarbons. In this lesson, we will discuss ethylene, one of the smaller, but biologically and commercially useful hydrocarbons. We will also discuss its properties and uses.

Ethylene is one of the simplest hydrocarbons. It comes in a gaseous form, and similar to many other hydrocarbons, it is colorless and flammable. It consists of two double-bonded carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms occupying the other bond positions. This gives ethylene a chemical formula of C2H4. The structural shape of the ethylene molecule is linear, or a straight line, due to the presence of the double bond in the center of the molecule.

Ethylene has a distinctive property that makes it relatively well recognized. Ethylene has a sweet, musky smell which makes it identifiable in the air. This smell is typically of pure ethylene gas. It can fade as ethylene mixes with other chemicals and gases.

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  • 0:01 Ethylene - Structure &…
  • 1:19 Uses of Ethylene - Commercial
  • 2:02 Uses of Ethylene - Biological
  • 2:41 Lesson Summary
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Uses of Ethylene - Commercial

Ethylene is commercially as a precursor for larger organic, or carbon containing, materials. Single ethylene molecules can be bonded together to make polyethylene, which means 'many ethylene molecules.' Polyethylene is used to make plastics, such as trash bags and films. It is also used to make detergents and synthetic lubricants, which are chemicals used to reduce friction.

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