An alkane is a type of hydrocarbon that contain only single bonds. Alkanes are true hydrocarbons, meaning they are made up of nothing but hydrogen and carbon.[1] Alkanes can also be referred to as saturated hydrocarbons since they have the most number of hydrogen atoms per carbon atom.[2]

Alkanes have the molecular formula CnH2n+2, where:

  • C is Carbon.
  • H is Hydrogen.
  • n refers to the number of carbon atoms.

The three simplest alkanes are methane (CH4), ethane (C2H6) and propane (C3H8) which contain one, two and three carbons respectively.[2]

Alkanes can be recognized by their -ane suffix.

When there are more than 3 carbons per alkane chain, there is a possibility of forming branched chains. The different arrangements of these branched chains will have different nomenclature, depending mainly on where they are branching from. Molecules that have the same molecular formula but with different molecular arrangements are called structural isomers.[2]

Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons. Many of these fossil fuels include chemicals like methane (CH4), ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), butane (C4H10) and octane (C8H18). All of these different components of gasoline and natural gas are alkanes.

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  1. “Alkanes,” Chemistry LibreTexts, 28-Nov-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 19-May-2017].
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 T. L. Brown, J. H. E. LeMay, B. E. Bursten and C. J. Murphy. Woodward, Chemistry: the central science. - 11th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.

Authors and Editors

Semaa Amin, Braden Heffernan, James Jenden, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: April 15, 2018
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