AskDefine | Define acetylene

Dictionary Definition

acetylene n : a colorless flammable gas used chiefly in welding and in organic synthesis [syn: ethyne, alkyne]

User Contributed Dictionary



From acetyl + -ene.


  • /ə ˈsɛt əl ˌin/


  1. Any organic compound having one or more carbon-carbon triple bond; an alkyne.
  2. Ethyne; the simplest alkyne, a hydrocarbon of formula HC≡CH. It is a colourless gas, with a peculiar, unpleasant odour, formerly used as an illuminating gas, but now used in welding or metallurgy.



  • Albanian: acetilen
  • Chinese: 乙炔
  • Dutch: acetyleen
  • Esperanto: acetileno
  • Finnish: asetyleeni
  • French: acétylène
  • German: Acetylen
  • Indonesian: asetilen
  • Interlingua: acetylen
  • Italian: acetilene
  • Japanese: アセチレン
  • Polish: acetylen
  • Portuguese: acetileno
  • Spanish: acetileno
  • Swedish: acetylen

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Acetylene (IUPAC name: ethyne) , C2H2, is a hydrocarbon belonging to the group of alkynes. It is considered to be the simplest of all alkynes as it consists of two hydrogen atoms and two carbon atoms. Acetylene is an unsaturated organic compound because its two carbon atoms are triply bonded.
The carbon-carbon triple bond leaves the carbon atoms with two sp hybrid orbitals for sigma bonding, placing all four atoms in the same straight line, with CCH bond angles of 180°.
Acetylene was discovered in 1836 by Edmund Davy who identified it as a "new carburet of hydrogen." It was rediscovered in 1860 by French chemist Marcellin Berthelot, who coined the name "acetylene." The Nobel Laureate Gustaf Dalén was blinded by an acetylene explosion.


The principal raw materials for acetylene manufacture are calcium carbonate (limestone) and coal. The calcium carbonate is first converted into calcium oxide and the coal into coke, then the two are reacted with each other to form calcium carbide and carbon monoxide:
CaO + 3C → CaC2 + CO
Calcium carbide (or calcium acetylide) and water are then reacted by any of several methods to produce acetylene and calcium hydroxide. This reaction was discovered by Friedrich Wohler in 1862.
CaC2 + 2H2O → Ca(OH)2 + C2H2
Calcium carbide synthesis requires an extremely high temperature, ~2000 degrees Celsius, so the reaction is performed in an electric arc furnace. This reaction was an important part of the late-1800s revolution in chemistry enabled by the massive hydroelectric power project at Niagara Falls.
Acetylene can also be manufactured by the partial combustion of methane with oxygen, or by the cracking of hydrocarbons.
Berthelot was able to prepare acetylene from methyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol, ethylene, or ether, when he passed any one of these as a gas or vapour through a red-hot tube. Berthelot also found acetylene was formed by sparking electricity through mixed cyanogen and hydrogen gases. He was also able to form acetylene directly by combining pure hydrogen with carbon using electrical discharge of a carbon arc.


Reppe chemistry

Walter Reppe discovered that acetylene can react at high pressures with heavy metal catalysts to give industrially significant chemicals:
This is industrially used to produce 1,4-butynediol from formaldehyde and acetylene:


Approximately 80 percent of the acetylene produced annually in the United States is used in chemical synthesis. The remaining 20 percent is used primarily for oxyacetylene gas welding and cutting due to the high temperature of the flame; combustion of acetylene with oxygen produces a flame of over (), releasing 11.8 kJ/g. Oxyacetylene is the hottest burning common fuel gas. Acetylene is also used in the acetylene ('carbide') lamp, once used by miners (not to be confused with the Davy lamp), on vintage cars, and still sometimes used by cavers. In this context, the acetylene is generated by dripping water from the upper chamber of the lamp onto calcium carbide (CaC2) pellets in the base of the lamp.
In former times a few towns used acetylene for lighting, including Tata in Hungary where it was installed on 24 July 1897, and North Petherton, England in 1898.
In modern times acetylene is sometimes used for carburization (that is, hardening) of steel when the object is too large to fit into a furnace.

Safety and handling


Due to the carbon-to-carbon triple bond, acetylene gas is fundamentally unstable, and will decompose in an exothermic reaction if compressed to any great extent. Acetylene can explode with extreme violence if the pressure of the gas exceeds about (≈14.5 psi) as a gas or when in liquid or solid form, so it is shipped and stored dissolved in acetone or dimethylformamide (DMF), contained in a metal cylinder with porous filling (Agamassan), which renders it safe to transport and use.
There are strict regulations on the shipment of dangerous gas cylinders throughout the world. Oxy-acetylene welding was a very popular welding process in previous decades, however, the development and advantages of arc-based welding processes have made oxy-fuel welding nearly extinct. Acetylene usage for welding has dropped significantly. However, oxy-fuel cutting is still very popular and oxy-acetylene cutting is present in nearly every metal fabrication shop.

Toxic effects

Inhaling acetylene may cause dizziness, headache and nausea. It may also contain toxic impurities: the Compressed Gas Association Commodity Specification for acetylene has established a grading system for identifying and quantifying phosphine, arsine, and hydrogen sulfide content in commercial grades of acetylene in order to limit exposure to these impurities. The sulfur, phosphorus and arsenic are carryovers from the synthesis ingredient coke, an impure form of carbon and different, organic impurities would be expected from the thermal cracking of hydrocarbons source.
While the impurities in acetylene can be toxic and even fatal, pure acetylene is of a very low toxicity (not counting the "narcotic" effects). Up to 80% percent, (v/v) acetylene has been administered to surgical patients as a general anaesthetic. The trade name for acetylene was "narcylene." It was used a fair amount experimentally in Germany in their impoverished 1920's, perhaps on several thousand patients. Medically, acetylene was considered to be nearly as safe as nitrous oxide and with a slightly higher potency, allowing for the use of higher percentages of oxygen in the blend; it is about 50% more potent. However, the use of acetylene and oxygen mixtures was dropped after several gas explosions inside patients' lungs. The energy of these explosions would be expected to exceed any of the flammable inhalation anesthetics due to the instability of the triple bond (cyclopropane would be nearly as bad). It was suggested that such an internal thorax explosion could not occur with air mixtures (without purified oxygen).
Acetylene has been infrequently abused in a manner akin to nitrous oxide abuse up through modern times, according to the literature. Such abuse can result in the death of the abuser due to toxicity of the above mentioned impurities phosphine, arsine, and hydrogen sulfide. Since the gas is charged (absorbed) into tanks soaked with acetone over a solid matrix, some acetone comes out with the gas, further contributing to the poisonings. The driver for this abusive behavior is better understood with the view of acetylene's anesthetic properties and addictive behaviors.
Impurities in acetylene are easily detectable by smell. Pure acetylene is a colorless and odorless gas. The characteristic garlic-like odor of technical grade acetylene is attributable to contamination by impurities. Impurities which may be present include: divinyl sulfide, ammonia, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphine, arsine, methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, vinyl acetylene, divinyl acetylene, diacetylene, propadiene, hexadiene, butadienyl acetylene, and methyl acetylene.

Fire hazard

Mixtures with air containing between 3% and 82% acetylene are explosive on ignition. The minimum ignition temperature is . One curious discovery of acetylene is on Enceladus, a moon of Saturn. Natural acetylene is believed to form from either catalytic decomposition of long chain hydrocarbons or at temperatures ≥ 1,770 kelvin. Since such temperatures are highly unlikely on such a small distant body, this discovery is potentially suggestive of catalytic reactions within the moon, making it a promising site to search for prebiotic chemistry.


External links

acetylene in Arabic: أسيتلين
acetylene in Bulgarian: Ацетилен
acetylene in Catalan: Acetilè
acetylene in Czech: Ethyn
acetylene in Danish: Acetylen
acetylene in German: Ethin
acetylene in Estonian: Atsetüleen
acetylene in Modern Greek (1453-): Αιθίνιο
acetylene in Spanish: Acetileno
acetylene in Esperanto: Acetileno
acetylene in Persian: استیلن
acetylene in French: Acétylène
acetylene in Galician: Acetileno
acetylene in Korean: 아세틸렌
acetylene in Croatian: Etin
acetylene in Indonesian: Asetilena
acetylene in Italian: Acetilene
acetylene in Latin: Ethinum
acetylene in Latvian: Acetilēns
acetylene in Lithuanian: Acetilenas
acetylene in Hungarian: Acetilén
acetylene in Dutch: Ethyn
acetylene in Japanese: アセチレン
acetylene in Norwegian: Acetylen
acetylene in Polish: Etyn
acetylene in Portuguese: Acetileno
acetylene in Romanian: Acetilenă
acetylene in Russian: Ацетилен
acetylene in Sicilian: Acitalena
acetylene in Simple English: Acetylene
acetylene in Slovak: Acetylén
acetylene in Slovenian: Acetilen
acetylene in Serbian: Ацетилен
acetylene in Finnish: Asetyleeni
acetylene in Swedish: Etyn
acetylene in Ukrainian: Ацетилен
acetylene in Chinese: 乙炔
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