Alkanes, also known as hydrocarbons that consist of single-bonded carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) atoms. Alkanes can be divided into three groups according to their chemical structures: straight-chain alkanes, branched-chain alkanes and the cyclic alkanes. Usually, the formula for straight-chain alkanes and branched-chain alkanes is CnH2n+2 and the formula for cyclic alkanes is CnH2n. Alkanes are mainly derived from petroleum, plants (pine oil, essential oils), animal fats, and natural gas. Because of their unique physicochemical properties, alkanes are important chemical raw materials and energy materials.
Due to the small difference in electronegativity between carbon and hydrogen and the covalent nature of C-C or C-H bonds, alkanes are generally non-polar molecules. Therefore, alkanes are widely used as non-polar solvents in the laboratory according to the theory of “like dissolves like”. For example, 2-methylpentane was used primarily to dissolve chromophores possessing extended aliphatic moieties. On the other hand, alkanes with carbon numbers between C1-C20 can be used as fuels for reasons such as easy combustion, environmental protection, and low cost.
In the field of energy utilization, natural gas and biogas (the main component is methane) are recently widely used as clean energy sources. Different fractions like liquefied petroleum gas, gasoline, kerosene, diesel, which are obtained from petroleum fractionation are suitable for various engines. For example, alkanes above C20 are heavy oils, which can be used as automotive and industrial lubricants after vacuum distillation.
In the medical field, liquid paraffin (also called normal alkane or normal paraffin) is not absorbed or digested in the human intestine, which will hinder the absorption of water. It is used as a lubricating laxative in medicine to treat constipation in the elderly or children. In addition, alkanes are important chemical raw materials, such as methane can be used to produce methanol, formaldehyde and carbon black.
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