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Chemistry LibreTexts

21.1: Alkanes: Saturated Hydrocarbons

Alkanes are organic compounds that consist entirely of single-bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms and lack any other functional groups. Alkanes have the general formula \(C_nH_{2n+2}\) and can be subdivided into the following three groups: the linear straight-chain alkanes, branched alkanes, and cycloalkanes. Alkanes are also saturated hydrocarbons. Alkanes are the simplest and least reactive hydrocarbon species containing only carbons and hydrogens. They are commercially very important, being the principal constituent of gasoline and lubricating oils and are extensively employed in organic chemistry; though the role of pure alkanes (such as hexanes) is delegated mostly to solvents. The distinguishing feature of an alkane, making it distinct from other compounds that also exclusively contain carbon and hydrogen, is its lack of unsaturation. That is to say, it contains no double or triple bonds, which are highly reactive in organic chemistry. Though not totally devoid of reactivity, their lack of reactivity under most laboratory conditions makes them a relatively uninteresting, though very important component of organic chemistry. As you will learn about later, the energy confined within the carbon-carbon bond and the carbon-hydrogen bond is quite high and their rapid oxidation produces a large amount of heat, typically in the form of fire.