Nonane: Structure & Uses

Instructor: Andrea Kropp

Andrea holds a master's degree in Chemistry and has taught General and Organic Chemistry, Biology and Physics at the college level.

Discover the structure, sources, and uses of the saturated hydrocarbon nonane (C9H20). Learn about nonane's physical properties and its impact on humans and environment. Updated: 02/15/2022

Nonane - What's in a Name?

The prefix non- (meaning nine) isn't very common. While most kindergarteners have heard of an octagon (an eight-sided shape), hardly anyone uses the word nonagon to describe a nine-sided shape. That's why at first glance the word nonane may not make you think of the number 9.

And yet, nonane is the name for the straight-chained hydrocarbon with nine carbons and 20 hydrogens. The nine carbon atoms are connected in one long chain with no branches. Hydrogens are attached such that each carbon makes four bonds to other atoms. Nonane's molecular formula is C9H20 and its structure can be drawn in many ways that are all equivalent in the field of chemistry.

Chemical Representations of Nonane

All fully saturated hydrocarbons end with the suffix -ane . A saturated hydrocarbon is a molecule containing only carbon and hydrogen where all the bonds between carbon atoms are single bonds. Some of the more common saturated hydrocarbons are propane and butane, which most readers will recognize as fuels that can be burned. Nonane is also commonly used as a fuel, and now when you see the word, you'll recognize it to be a combination of the prefix non- and the suffix -ane.

Nonane Properties

Nonane is a colorless liquid at room temperature with a noticeable gasoline-like odor. It can be burned just like other hydrocarbons to produce carbon dioxide and water.

Nonane doesn't mix very well with water - most long chained petroleum products and hydrocarbons don't. Because it is less dense than water it will float on top of it, just like an oil spill would float on top of ocean water.

Most nonane is obtained from refining petroleum with reported annual production in the range of 1 million to 10 million pounds. It can also be produced by adding hydrogen (H2) to nonene (C9H18) in a reaction called hydrogenation.

Nonane Uses

Nonane is a component in automotive fuel and in jet fuel. Specifically, it is a component in JP-8 - a jet fuel formulation devised by the US military. In addition to powering US Air Force and Navy aircraft, JP-8 also powers ground vehicles such as tanks and the military's heaters and stoves.

A second major use for nonane is as a component in organic solvents. The fact that it doesn't mix well with water makes it a good choice of solvent for other hydrophobic (water-fearing) molecules.

Mineral spirits, also known as white spirit, petroleum spirits, or Stoddard solvent (among other names), is a commercial product containing nonane and other hydrocarbons with seven to twelve carbon atoms. If you have ever painted a room with oil-based paint, you've probably used mineral spirits to help clean the paint brushes at the end. Mineral spirits can also be used as a paint thinner at the beginning of the task.

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