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Alkanes – What Are They?

Alkanes are the hydrocarbon chains that make up the primary constituents of fuels. Learn more about what alkanes are here.

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Alkanes: The Building Blocks of Fuels

Fuels are mixtures of hydrocarbon chains of varying lengths that meet the formula Cn+H2n+2. Molecules that meet this formula are known as ‘alkanes’, and these hydrocarbons are found in all organic matter. They also make up crude oil, and when crude oil is refined through fractional distillation, these alkane mixtures can be separated into many useful products – such as diesel, gas oil, kerosene, marine gas oil and lubricants among others.

Alkanes are not the only hydrocarbon chains found in crude oil – alkenes (hydrocarbons with the formula Cn+H2n) are also present in crude oil, and these are used in chemical processes, not fuels.

When a mixture of alkanes forms a distillate a flashpoint of higher than 42oC they are classified as fuel oils. Learn more about fuel oil here.

If you want to know more about the process of refining crude oil that allows alkanes to create useful fuels and oils, read our guide to crude oil fractional distillation.

Table of alkane hydrocarbons

The below lists the first 20 alkanes, although there are many more. Each type of fuel will have mixtures of different alkane chains, and these mixtures will give the fuel its desired properties.

AlkaneMolecular FormulaCompositionCarbon atoms in chainHydrogen atoms in chain
MethaneCH4CH414
EthaneC2H6CH3-CH326
PropaneC3H8CH3-CH2-CH338
ButaneC4H10CH3-2(CH2)-CH3410
PentaneC5H12CH3-3(CH2)-CH3512
HexaneC6H14CH3-4(CH2)-CH3614
HeptaneC7H16CH3-5(CH2)-CH3716
OctaneC8H18CH3-6(CH2)-CH3818
NonaneC9H20CH3-7(CH2)-CH3920
DecaneC10H22CH3-8(CH2)-CH31022
UndecaneC11H24CH3-9(CH2)-CH31124
DodecaneC12H26CH3-10(CH2)-CH31226
TridecaneC13H28CH3-11(CH2)-CH31328
TetradecaneC14H30CH3-12(CH2)-CH31430
PentadecaneC15H32CH3-13(CH2)-CH31532
Cetane (Hexadecatane)C16H34CH3-14(CH2)-CH31634
HeptadecaneC17H36CH3-15(CH2)-CH31736
OctadecaneC18H38CH3-16(CH2)-CH31838
NonadecaneC19H40CH3-17(CH2)-CH31940
EicosaneC20H42CH3-18(CH2)-CH32042

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