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What is Butane?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 16, 2024
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Butane is a gaseous component of natural gas, much like gasoline is a component of crude oil. While petroleum products like gasoline are refined, natural gas products are extracted. Butane can also be produced from crude oil, but in much smaller quantities. It is often added to regular gasoline to boost its performance without creating a highly volatile product. The gas is also used in refrigeration and heating systems, and as fuel for cigarette lighters.

The chemical formula for butane is C4H10, which means the molecule consists of four carbon atoms surrounded by ten hydrogen atoms to form a straight line. It looks a bit like a four-segment carbon caterpillar with ten hydrogen legs. This form is technically called n-butane, where the n stands for "normal." It has a relative called isobutane, which is used primarily as a replacement for the refrigerant freon in refrigerator systems.

Butane is one of dozens of gases derived from raw natural gas. It is often combined with propane to form a product called liquid propane gas (LPG). This is the bottled gas sold for use in camping stoves and outdoor gas-powered grills. Propane may deliver more energy, but butane has a certain property that makes it ideal for containment: when compressed, it becomes a liquid very quickly. Once it is released into the air, however, it reacts with an ignition source to become a highly flammable gas. Unlike some other natural gas derivatives, the gas only releases carbon dioxide as a waste product, not carbon monoxide.

People can take a close look at a transparent cigarette lighter to see butane in its liquid state. Once the holder depresses a valve, the liquid loses its pressure and becomes gaseous again. The flame is similar to a burning candle, because butane is considered a "paraffin" gas. The liquid that remains in the lighter is slowly expelled, much like how the candle wick only draws enough liquid wax to maintain the flame.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon978098 — On Nov 15, 2014

Can you solidify butane?

By anon959108 — On Jul 02, 2014

Do you know about some butane products like butadien and others?

By anon339309 — On Jun 22, 2013

@anon15698: This is a question I have been interested in for some time. If this were possible, it could change our whole energy picture into one that is sustainable. I don't know why some significant resources are not being utilized to find a positive answer to this idea.

By anon320294 — On Feb 16, 2013

We use butane for the gas stove and also for gas logs in the fireplace. Just recently, the fireplace started smoking and soot went all through the house. It is not easy to clean off. The entire ceiling will have to be painted. Now the stove is producing soot. What is going on? Have there been changes in the butane? The fireplace and logs have been cleaned. We can only use it turned on low. Turn it up and you can actually see smoke/soot coming out. It can't be good to breathe this stuff. Any help would be appreciated.

By anon294463 — On Oct 01, 2012

What is the lowest temperature at which butane can be used as a heating fuel?

By anon290108 — On Sep 07, 2012

When butane evaporates, does it leave anything behind? After heating it up at what point does it evaporate? Does the leftover residue contain any poisonous elements?

By JohnR898 — On Jan 31, 2012

"Butane...is often combined with propane to form a new product called LPG, or Liquid Propane Gas."

Butane is found in propane, but only to a certain extent. LPG is liquefied petroleum gas, not liquid propane gas, although a lot of people make that error. Butane is an LPG, as is propane.

By anon150715 — On Feb 08, 2011

What is the history of butane, especially in Texas?

By anon70592 — On Mar 15, 2010

in normal atmospheric pressure butane became liquid at about 0 (zero) celsius...

It is not safe to "ingest" or to "inhale" butane neither is handle it carelessly, that said it is safe enough to use as extraction medium.

By anon47672 — On Oct 06, 2009

how do you use it?

By ghammers — On Aug 27, 2009

Natural gas, LPG and butane fuel/air ratios are different, in reply to LPG in household heaters.

By anon43234 — On Aug 26, 2009

whenever I am camping in cold weather I notice that my butane torches refuse to light. Question: at what temperature does butane evaporate?

By anon38571 — On Jul 27, 2009

What pressure is BTU?

By anon31620 — On May 08, 2009

How much is the average price in England?

By anon30389 — On Apr 18, 2009

At what temp. does Butane turn into a liquid?

By anon29862 — On Apr 09, 2009

Is hash oil derived with butane safe?

By lizdiaz — On Apr 07, 2009

What is the size of a molecule of ethane?

What is the size of a molecule of butane?

By anon29273 — On Mar 30, 2009

At what temp. does butane turn into a liquid?

By anon22949 — On Dec 13, 2008

can butane evaporate? I have butane (kitchen) torch that was used only once. On the 2nd attempt to use the device, many months later, the torch no longer had any fuel in it. Where did it go?

By anon22684 — On Dec 08, 2008

what is the use of butane?

By anon20514 — On Nov 01, 2008

what is the ratio of liquid butane to butane gas at room temperature?

By anon15698 — On Jul 19, 2008

Can butane be synthesized from carbon dioxide and water, using heat, light or other radiation and a catalyst of some nature?

By anon13207 — On May 21, 2008

when i was a kid my dad had a refridg. unit on his truck trailer the the motor ran on butane. do they still make motors that run on butane?

By anon12198 — On May 01, 2008

Why are particular hydrocarbons produced in large quantities?

By anon10870 — On Apr 04, 2008

Can you tell me why it is unsafe to use LPG in household gas heaters? Is it because of its flammable nature or is it not safe to breathe? Thanks!

By anon10401 — On Mar 26, 2008

is it safe to take butane?

please comment back asap!!!

By anon9783 — On Mar 13, 2008

what happens when liquid butane is mixed with melting ice?

By anon9605 — On Mar 09, 2008

Is butane the gas used in aerosols as insect killers?

By anon8465 — On Feb 14, 2008

is mixed c4 the same as crude c4?

By odenwd1 — On Feb 05, 2008

Do you have a table of elements for LPG's such as C3=propane, 4=butane?

By jsk — On Jan 07, 2008

can i use a butane fire with LPG?

By anon5954 — On Dec 11, 2007

do you have more information about butane?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
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