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Butane structure.pngButane-3D-space-filling.png
Systematic name Butane
Molecular formula C4H10
Molar mass 58.12 g/mol
Appearance Colorless gas
CAS number 106-97-8
Density and phase 0.579g/ml, gas
Solubility in water 1813 mL/100 ml
Melting point -138°C
Boiling point 0°C
MSDS Material safety data sheet
Main hazards Highly flammable
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 svg.png

Flash point -60°C
R/S statement R: R12
S: (S2)S16
RTECS number EJ4200000
Related compounds
Related Alkanes Propane
Related compounds Perfluorobutane
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Disclaimer and references

Butane is a flammable hydrocarbon with the molecular formula C4H10. It is a natural gas perhaps best known for its use as a fuel for refillable and disposable lighters. Butane's uses can be observed in many sectors of life. It is a reliable source of energy, and can be obtained through the processing of natural gas. Butane is an organic compound known as an NGL, a Natural Gas Liquid. This gas was discovered by motorists in the early 20th century, when they realized that they were only managing to use a portion of the gasoline they had purchased before it evaporated. These bikers were upset to find their tanks much emptier than they had expected. Outraged, they brought this information to Dr. Walter Snelling. In 1910, he began to research this odd phenomenon, and later teamed up with the U.S. Bureau of Mining to continue his investigation. One year later, Snelling was able to isolate the evaporating liquid, thus discovering propane and butane. Shortly after, a method for converting butane gas into liquid was invented. This discovery continues to influence the world today. [1]


Cylindrical gas canisters containing compressed butane in its liquid form.

Butane is a hydrocarbon with a formula of C4H10, which means it contains 4 carbon atoms and 10 hydrogen atoms. This gas is considered an alkane, which means it is a member of the alkanine series, a grouping of ". . .non-aromatic saturated hydrocarbons." [2] To put it simply, the alkanine series contains hydrocarbons with only one carbon-carbon bond. Butane's more closely related alkanes are propane, isobutane, and pentane. Butane remains as a gas at normal room temperature. It has a low molecular weight and appears as a colorless gas. It has a molar mass of 58.12 grams per mole, and has a density of 0.579 grams per milliliter. This gas has a melting point of -138 degrees Celsius and a boiling point of 0 degrees Celsius. It is highly combustible and flammable when it is released into the air, and is prone to creating explosions or flash fires. When it is in a compressed liquid form, butane has the potential to cause frostbite or freezeburn when touched. This gas has the ability to become a liquid rapidly when placed into a compressed container, like the orange canisters it is often transported in. Though butane is one of many different types of natural gas, it is one of the few that only releases carbon dioxide as a useless byproduct, instead of carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas. [3] Butane is also known as a paraffin gas, which means that it is a hydrocarbon.[4] The classification of being a paraffin gas means that butane's flame can resemble a candle's flame. This can be observed when butane is compressed into a cigarette lighter and ignited.


Butane naturally occurs in crude petroleum and more commonly in natural gas. Because of this, butane is known as an NGL, which stands for "natural gas liquid." NGLs are byproducts of natural gas processing. Natural gas processing isolates the pure natural gas by removing all of the assorted hydrocarbons and fluids. It is a complex four-step process, which begins with the removal of oil and condensate, then water removal, glycol dehydration, and finally ends with solid-desiccant dehydration. The isolation of butane occurs during this procedure. After the NGLs are separated from the natural gas, they must undergo fractionation. This process sorts out the individual components in the NGL stream. This process involves the Deethanizer, which isolates the ethane, Depropanizer, which isolates the propane, Debutanizer, which separates the butane via boiling, and Deisobutanizer, which separates the normal butanes from the iso. Each of these processes are necessary to produce butane, and more importantly, the dry natural gas that can be transported through pipelines and used commercially. [5]


A Glassmaker uses a butane torch, a handy device that takes advantage of butane's flammability.

Freshly after it was discovered by Dr. Walter Snelling in 1912, butane was used as fuel. This was done by storing the butane in bottles and then placing it into residential buildings for both warmth and power. [6] Today, butane has a wide variety of uses, the most common of which can be found in the cigarette lighter. Butane serves as fuel for both the disposable and refillable lighter. Butane is used in this item for its high flammability and its low cost to produce. The butane torch is another item that takes advantage of its flammable properties. The butane torch is most commonly used for craft projects, glass making, certain plumbing projects that require heat and caramelizing desserts in the kitchen. Campers can make use of butane while using portable grills. In these cases, the butane is stored in a gas canister. Gas canisters prove to be quite effective for storing butane because of its ability to easily compress. Cordless hair straighteners or irons make use of butane gas canisters as well. Propane and other substances can combine with butane to form liquefied petroleum gas, otherwise known as LPG. LPG is found in the manufacturing of petrochemicals, which are used in various heating appliances, in fuel for vehicles, and can be used in aerosol cans. In its purest state, butane is used as a refrigerant and can be used for calibrating instruments. Butane has replaced the use of methane derivatives in household refrigerators due to the risk methane places on the ozone layer. Surprisingly, adding butane to gasoline does not increase the gasoline's flammability, but enhances its quality and performance. This hydrocarbon is also used as a food additive [7]

Natural Gas

Butane is a component of natural gas, a vital fuel for the energy the world requires. Natural gas lacks color, odor, and shape. Though this could be a description for many different gases, natural gas has an exceptional capability that sets it apart from others. Natural gas is combustible, and when it is burned it emits a large amount of energy. Besides producing a copious amount of energy,when burned natural gas produces few harmful emissions (byproducts), and is a relatively clean process. Because of these characteristics, natural gas has become an integral source for human's need of energy. Natural gas has proven to be so valuable to the world that practically every component of daily life involves natural gas in some way or another.

Humans have an insatiable need for energy. We need it for cooking food, for staying warm, for entertainment, for production of materials, for transportation, for electricity, and much more. This enormous demand for energy initiated the search for alternative means to obtain it. Thus, natural energy was introduced. Presently, the energy gained from the use of natural gas ". . .accounts for 24 percent of total energy consumed in the United States, making it a vital component of the nation's energy supply," [8] according to the Energy Information Administration. The significance of natural energy increased as the world realized its potential. Nowadays, natural gas is mainly used in the industrial sector, and secondly used in residential areas. Of course, the uses of natural gas are not limited to just these two sectors, but can be found in every area of modern living.

After it is removed of all impurities natural gas practically runs the world. [9]


Fireball experiment with a little help from a butane torch.


  1. How was butane discovered?. Answer Bag. Web. Published 25 April 2010. Cartmell, Paul.
  2. Wordnet Search 3.1. Word Net Web. Web. Accessed 27 February 2013. Unknown Author.
  3. What is Butane?. Wise Geek. Web. Last Modified on 17 February 2013. Pollick, Michael.
  4. Paraffin. The Free Dictionary. Web. Published in 2007. Unknown Author.
  5. Natural Gas Processing. Natural Gas. Web. Accessed 27 February 2013. Unknown Author.
  6. How was butane discovered?. Answer Bag. Web. Published 25 April 2010. Cartmell, Paul.
  7. Uses of Butane. Want to Know It. Web. Accessed 26 February 2013. Unknown Author.
  8. Uses of Natural Gas. Natural Gas. Web. Published 2002. Unknown Author.
  9. Natural Gas. New World Encyclopedia. Web. Published 9 March 2009. Unknown Author.