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  • Alkanes, also known as paraffins, are chemical compounds that consist only of the elements carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) (i.e., hydrocarbons), wherein these atoms are linked together exclusively by single bonds without any cyclic structure.

  • Alkanes belong to a homologous series of organic compounds in which the members differ by a constant relative atomic mass of 14.

  • An alkyl group is a functional group or side-chain that, like an alkane, consists solely of singly-bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms, for example a methyl or ethyl group.

  • Saturated hydrocarbons can be linear (general formula CnH2n+2) wherein the carbon atoms are joined in a snake-like structure, branched wherein the carbon backbone splits off in one or more directions, or cyclic wherein the carbon backbone is linked so as to form a loop.

  • The simplest possible alkane is methane, CH4. There is no limit to the number of carbon atoms that can be linked together, the only limitation being that the molecule is acyclic, is saturated, and is a hydrocarbon.

  • Alkanes are not very reactive and have little biological activity. Alkanes can be viewed as a molecular scaffold upon which can be hung the interesting biologically-active/reactive portions of the molecule.


  • Alkenes or alkynes react with hydrogen in the presence of nickel catalyst at 200-300C to form alkanes. Other catalysts that can be used are platinum and palladium.

  • Alkyl halides undergo reduction with nascent hydrogen to form alkanes.

  • When the sodium salt of a carboxylic acid is heati strongly with sodalime , a molecule of carbon dioxide is split off as carbonate Amdahl alkane is formed. Notice that the alkane so produced contains one carbon less than the original acid.

  • Alkyl magnesium halides are obtained by treating alkyl halides with magnesium in anhydrous ether. These on treatment with water give alkanes.


  • Alkanes from hexadecane upwards form the most important components of fuel oil and lubricating oil.

  • Many solid alkanes find use as paraffin wax, for example, in candles. This should not be confused however with true wax, which consists primarily of esters.

  • Propane, for example, is used in the propane gas burner, butane in disposable cigarette lighters. The two alkanes are used as propellants in aerosol sprays.

  • The first four alkanes are used mainly for heating and cooking purposes, and in some countries for electricity generation.

  • Methane and ethane are the main components of natural gas; they are normally stored as gases under pressure.

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