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Uses of Alkyl Halides

This page looks at some of the uses of halogenoalkanes (haloalkanes or alkyl halides).

CFCs and their replacements

CFCs are chlorofluorocarbons - compounds containing carbon with chlorine and fluorine atoms attached. Two common CFCs are:

 

CFC-11 CCl3F
CFC-12 CCl2F2

Uses of CFCs

CFCs are non-flammable and not very toxic. They therefore had a large number of uses. They were used as refrigerants, propellants for aerosols, for generating foamed plastics like expanded polystyrene or polyurethane foam, and as solvents for dry cleaning and for general degreasing purposes. Unfortunately, CFCs are largely responsible for destroying the ozone layer. In the high atmosphere, the carbon-chlorine bonds break to give chlorine free radicals. It is these radicals which destroy ozone. CFCs are now being replaced by less environmentally harmful compounds. CFCs can also cause global warming. One molecule of CFC-11, for example, has a global warming potential about 5000 times greater than a molecule of carbon dioxide. On the other hand, there is far more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than CFCs, so global warming isn't the major problem associated with them.

Replacements for CFCs

These are still mainly halogenoalkanes, although simple alkanes such as butane can be used for some applications (for example, as aerosol propellants).

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs): These are carbon compounds which contain hydrogen as well as halogen atoms. For example:

HCFC-22 CHClF2

The formula can be worked out from the number in the name in exactly the same way as for CFCs. These have a shorter life in the atmosphere than CFCs, and much of them is destroyed in the low atmosphere and so doesn't reach the ozone layer. HCFC-22 has only about one-twentieth of the effect on the ozone layer as a typical CFC.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): These are compounds containing only hydrogen and fluorine attached to carbon. For example:

HFC-134a CH2F-CF3

Because these HCFCs don't contain any chlorine, they have zero effect on the ozone layer. HFC-134a is now widely used in refrigerants, for blowing foamed plastics and as a propellant in aerosols.

Hydrocarbons

Again, these have no effect on the ozone layer, but they do have a down-side. They are highly flammable and are involved in environmental problems such as the formation of photochemical smog.

Other uses of organohalogen compounds

Strictly speaking, the compounds we are talking about here are halogenoalkenes, not halogenoalkanes:

  • Chloroethene, CH2=CHCl, is used to make poly(chloroethene) - usually known as PVC.
  • Tetrafluoroethene, CF2=CF2, is used to make poly(tetrafluoroethene) - PTFE.

Lab uses of halogenoalkanes

If you refer to the halogenoalkanes menu (see below), you will find that they react with lots of things leading to a wide range of different organic products. Halogenoalkanes are therefore useful in the lab as intermediates in making other organic chemicals.

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