Typically found in many gas mixtures compressed by Hycomp gas compressors, ethane is a colorless, odorless, flammable gas that is relatively inactive chemically and is considered nontoxic. The chemical formula for ethane is C2H6. It is typically shipped as a liquefied compressed gas under its vapor pressure of 544 psig at 70oF (3750 kPa at 21.1oC).
Ethane was first synthetically created in 1834 by Michael Faraday, applying electrolysis of a potassium acetate solution. He mistook the hydrocarbon product of this reaction for methane, and did not investigate it further. During the period 1847–1849, in an effort to vindicate the radical theory of organic chemistry, Hermann Kolbe and Edward Frankland produced ethane by the reductions of propionitrile (ethyl cyanide) and ethyl iodide with potassium metal, and, as did Faraday, by the electrolysis of aqueous acetates. They, however, mistook the product of these reactions for methyl radical, rather than the dimer of methyl, ethane. This error was corrected in 1864 by Carl Schorlemmer, who showed that the product of all these reactions was in fact ethane.

The name ethane is derived from the IUPAC nomenclature of organic chemistry. “Eth-” refers to the presence of 2 carbon atoms, and “-ane” refers to the presence of a single bond between them.

Ethane is noncorrosive and may be contained in installations constructed of any common metals designed to withstand the pressure involved. Ethane is produced commercially from the cracking of light petroleum fractions, and also by fractionation from natural gas.

Safety, Storage & Handling:

All the precautions required for the safe handling of any flammable compressed gas must be observed with ethane. It is important that ignition sources be kept away from containers, including situations where leakage could cause the gas to ignite by such sources as a spark from a motor. All piping and equipment used with ethane should be grounded.

Inhalation of ethane in concentrations in air up to 5 percent produces no definite symptoms, but inhalation of higher concentrations has an anesthetic effect. It can act as a simple asphyxiant by displacing the oxygen in the air. Contact between liquid ethane and skin can cause freezing of the tissue.

Handling Leaks and Emergencies:

To detect leaks from containers, connections, or piping, use a soapy water solution. Leaks will be indicated by the formation of bubbles. Alternative means of detection involve the use of instrumental methods. Never use a flame for leak detection. See the liquefied petroleum gases monograph for steps to take regarding an emergency involving ethane.

Inhalation – Inhalation of low concentrations can be remedied by promptly going to an uncontaminated area and inhaling fresh air. In the event of a massive exposure, where the victim has become unconscious or symptoms of asphyxiation may persist, the person should be removed promptly to an uncontaminated atmosphere, and given artificial respiration if breathing has stopped. This should be followed by oxygen, after breathing has been restored.

Skin Contact – Contact of liquid ethane with the skin can result in frostbite. First aid treatment for frostbite consists of putting the frostbitten part in warm water, 100oF to 105oF (37.8oC to 40.6oC). If warm water is not available, or is impractical to use, wrap the affected area gently in blankets. Encourage the victim to exercise the affected part while it is being warmed. This will aid circulation to re-establish itself naturally. Medical attention by a physician should be obtained.

Eye Contact – In the event of eye contact with liquid ethane, flush with tap water for 15 minutes. If irritation persists, the patient should be referred to a physician.


The chief use of ethane is in the chemical industry in the production of ethene (ethylene) by steam cracking. When diluted with steam and briefly heated to very high temperatures (900 oC or more), heavy hydrocarbons break down into lighter hydrocarbons, and saturated hydrocarbons become unsaturated. Ethane is favored for ethene production because the steam cracking of ethane is fairly selective for ethene, while the steam cracking of heavier hydrocarbons yields a product mixture poorer in ethene, and richer in heavier alkenes (olefins) such as propene (propylene) and butadiene, and in aromatic hydrocarbons.

Other major uses of ethane include its application as a fuel and in organic synthesis. For example, it can be chlorinated to produce ethyl chloride. Ethane can also be used as a refrigerant in cryogenic refrigeration systems. On a much smaller scale, in scientific research, liquid ethane is used to vitrify water-rich samples for electron microscopy (cryo-electron microscopy). A thin film of water, quickly immersed in liquid ethane at -150 oC or colder, freezes too quickly for water to crystallize. This rapid freezing does not disrupt the structure of soft objects present in the liquid state, as the formation of ice crystals can do.

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Examples of how and where Hycomp compressors and boosters are used
to compress gas mixtures containing ethane:

IndustryEthane Use
Chemical IndustrySteam cracking
Oil & Gas IndustryUsed in the production of tetraethyl lead, a fuel additive
RefrigerationEthyl chloride is used as a refrigerant in cryogenic refrigeration systems
PaintsEthyl chloride is used as a thickening agent and binder in paints