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Saturated Hydrocarbon: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Overview: A Saturated…
  • 2:56 Examples of Saturated…
  • 3:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Reid

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

Hydrocarbons come in two varieties: saturated and unsaturated. In this lesson, you'll learn about saturated hydrocarbons and how to identify them. You'll also have the chance to test your new knowledge of hydrocarbons with a brief quiz.

Overview: A Saturated Hydrocarbon

The term 'saturation' has nothing to do with a hydrocarbon getting soaked in water or coming inside after getting drenched in a torrential rainstorm. Instead, saturation has to do with the number of carbon atoms present in a molecule. Before we define a saturated hydrocarbon, let's step back and discuss a hydrocarbon.

Hydrocarbons are molecules that contain a carbon and hydrogen atom bonded to one another. Based upon their structure and properties, these organic compounds fall into the aliphatic or aromatic category. Think of aliphatic hydrocarbons as the guys who like to let several of their carbon and hydrogen atoms form long chains or branches, as shown in figure a:

There are several functional groups that fall within this category: alkanes, alkenes, and alkynes. Aromatic hydrocarbons are the gals who prefer to let their carbon and hydrogen atoms bond to form beautiful shapes, as shown in figure b above.

Saturated hydrocarbons are molecules that only contain single bonds and a maximum amount of hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon atom present. The word 'maximum' refers to the principle of the octet rule. The octet rule states that atoms like carbon are more stable and happy when they have eight valence electrons. Valence electrons are electrons that occupy the outer shell of an atom.

In the case of a saturated hydrocarbon, our friend carbon wants to use the maximum number of hydrogen atoms possible to ensure it has eight valence electrons in its outer shell. However, carbon only has four valence electrons, which means it needs to share four additional electrons with another atom to be stable and happy. This is where the hydrogen atom comes to the rescue! Hydrogen will graciously share its one electron with carbon, forming a single bond called a covalent bond.

Covalent bonds are a type of chemical bond formed when atoms share electrons with one another. When hydrogen shares its one electron with the carbon atom, two things happen:

1.) A covalent bond is formed

2.) The carbon atom is one step closer towards fulfilling its octet

Remember, to achieve saturation, carbon needs eight valence electrons in its outer shell. For a single carbon atom, not one, but four hydrogen atoms will step in and share their electrons.

If you're wondering how saturated hydrocarbons and aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons relate to each other, remember that the functional group, alkanes, falls within the category of an aliphatic hydrocarbon. So, another name for a saturated hydrocarbon is an alkane! The general formula for an alkane is:

CnH2n+2

where n represents the number of carbon atoms present in the compound. In reference to saturated hydrocarbons, think of the formula this way: the larger the n number, the more saturated the molecule.

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