Simple Science

Uses Of Butane

bleu butane...
Photo by gael63

Butane is an unbranched alkane with 4 carbon atoms in each molecule. It is also called n-butane or normal butane. Molecular formula of butane can be written as CH3CH2CH2CH3.

It is also used as a collective term for both isobutene (CH(CH3)3), which is its only other isomer (also called methylpropane or i-butane), and n-butane. Both isomers of butane are highly flammable, colorless gases at atmospheric pressure and ordinary temperatures. They can be obtained by refining petroleum or extracted from natural gas.

There are a number of applications for butane. Bottled butane gas is a fuel for camping and cooking. Additionally, butane is also used as a feedstock component for the production of base petrochemicals in steam cracking, as a component of gasoline (petrol), and as a fuel for cigarette lighters. When it is blended with propane as well as other hydrocarbons, the mixture is commercially known as liquefied petroleum gas, which is a fuel for heating appliances as well as vehicles.

Today, concerns regarding depletion of the ozone layer by Freon gases (halomethanes or chlorofluorocarbons) have led to increased use of liquefied petroleum gas and isobutene as refrigerants, especially in domestic freezers and refrigerators, and as propellants in aerosol sprays. However, in this article we will focus just on uses of butane.

Common uses

Butane was discovered in 1912 by Dr. Walter Snelling. Freshly after the discovery, butane was used as fuel by storing it in bottles and placing it into residential buildings for both power and warmth. However, in modern world, butane has a number of other uses. The most common application of butane is in the cigarette lighter. It serves as fuel for both the refillable and disposable lighter. Butane is used in this item for its low cost to produce and its high flammability.

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Another item that takes advantage of its flammable properties is the butane torch. The butane torch as many applications, but the most common uses are for glass making, craft projects, and certain plumbing projects which require heat and caramelizing desserts in the kitchen. Butane can be used in portable grills and campers can make a good use of it. In this case, the butane is stored in a gas canister. Because of its ability to easily compress, gas canisters are an excellent choice for storing butane.

In addition, cordless hair straighteners or irons also make use of butane gas which is stored in gas canisters. Butane can be combined with propane as well as other substances in order to form liquefied petroleum gas, which is also known as LPG. Liquefied petroleum gas is found in the manufacturing of petrochemicals that are used in a number of heating appliances, can be used in aerosol cans, and in fuel for vehicles. When used in its purest state, butane can be used for calibrating instruments and as a refrigerant.

Due to the risk methane places on the ozone layer, butane has replaced the use of methane derivatives in household refrigerators. Additionally, adding butane to gasoline doesn’t increase the flammability of the gasoline, but enhances its performance and quality. This hydrocarbon is used as a food additive, too.


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