Saturated hydrocarbons, also known as alkanes or paraffins, are a type of hydrocarbon compound composed solely of carbon and hydrogen atoms, with the carbon atoms forming single covalent bonds to other carbon atoms and hydrogen atoms. This results in a saturated carbon skeleton, meaning that each carbon atom is “saturated” with the maximum number of hydrogen atoms possible.
Key characteristics of saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes) include:
- Single Bonds: All carbon-carbon bonds in saturated hydrocarbons are single bonds (C-C), and each carbon atom is bonded to four other atoms (either hydrogen or carbon).
- General Formula: The general formula for alkanes is CnH2n+2, where “n” is the number of carbon atoms in the chain. This formula arises from the fact that each carbon atom contributes two hydrogen atoms and there are two additional hydrogen atoms for the two terminal carbons.
- Physical Properties: Saturated hydrocarbons are relatively unreactive compared to unsaturated hydrocarbons (such as alkenes and alkynes) due to the lack of multiple bonds. They are generally odorless and colorless, and they have higher boiling and melting points compared to unsaturated hydrocarbons with the same number of carbon atoms. This is because the relatively strong single bonds in alkanes require more energy to break.
- Isomerism: Saturated hydrocarbons can exhibit structural isomerism, where compounds with the same molecular formula have different arrangements of atoms. This occurs when carbon chains can be arranged differently, leading to various isomers.
- Sources: Saturated hydrocarbons are commonly found in fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas. They serve as major components of fuels and are used in various industrial processes for energy production, fueling vehicles, and more.
Examples of saturated hydrocarbons (alkanes) include:
- Methane (CH4)
- Ethane (C2H6)
- Propane (C3H8)
- Butane (C4H10)
- Pentane (C5H12)
- Hexane (C6H14)
- Heptane (C7H16)
- Octane (C8H18)
- Nonane (C9H20)
- Decane (C10H22)
Saturated hydrocarbons are an important class of compounds with various industrial and practical applications, particularly in the field of energy and fuels.