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(ĕth`əlēn') or


(ĕth`ēn), H2C=CH2, a gaseous unsaturated hydrocarbon. It is the simplest alkenealkene
, any of a group of aliphatic hydrocarbons whose molecules contain one or more carbon-carbon double bonds (see chemical bond). Alkenes with only one double bond have the general formula CnH2n.
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. Ethylene is colorless, has a faint odor, and has a slightly sweet taste; it melts at −169.4°C; and boils at −103.8°C;. Because of the presence of the double bond in its molecule, ethylene is very reactive. It burns in air with a luminous flame and forms explosive mixtures with pure oxygen. It combines directly with the halogens, e.g., with chlorine to form 1,2-dichloroethane. With hydrogen it forms ethane. Ethylene may be prepared by the dehydration of ethanol with sulfuric acid at about 180°C;. It is prepared commercially from natural gas and petroleum, e.g., by cracking and fractional distillation. Ethylene has many uses. It is important in the synthesis of many chemicals. It is used in making polyethylene and saran, in the manufacture of ethanol and ethylene oxide, and as an anesthetic. Ethylene was called olefiant gas by early chemists.



(also ethene), H2C═CH2, an unsaturated hydrocarbon; the first member of the homologous series of olefins (alkenes).

Ethylene takes the form of a colorless gas with a weak ethereal odor. It has a melting point of –169.5°C, a boiling point of –103.8°C, and a density of 0.570 g/cm3 at –103.8°C. Virtually insoluble in water, it is poorly soluble in ethyl alcohol; it dissolves better in ether and acetone. Ethylene has a flash point of 540°C, and it burns with a slightly smoky flame. Mixtures of ethylene and air become explosive when the concentration of ethylene is 3–34 percent by volume.

Ethylene is highly reactive. Its most characteristic reaction is addition to the carbon-carbon double bond. For example, the catalytic hydrogenation of ethylene yields ethane according to the reaction

H2C═CH2 + H2 → H3C—CH3

Similarly, the chlorination of ethylene produces dichloroethane, as described by the equation

H2C═CH2 + C12 → C1H2C—CH2Cl

Hypochlorination (the addition of hypochlorous acid) yields ethylene chlorohydrin according to the reaction

H2C═CH2 + HOCl → HOH2C—CH2Cl

Many reactions of ethylene serve as a basis for industrial methods of producing important chemicals. For example, ethyl alcohol is produced by either the single-step or two-step hydration of ethylene (see), and ethylene oxide and acetaldehyde are produced by the oxidation of ethylene. The alkylation of benzene by ethylene gives ethylbenzene (seeFRIEDEL-CRAFTS REACTION), polymerization gives polyethylene (in the presence of Ziegler-Natta catalysts, for example), and oxidative chlorination yields vinylchloride. Vinyl acetate is produced by reacting ethylene with acetic acid; ethyl chloride, by adding hydrogen chloride; and mustard gas, by reacting ethylene with sulfur chlorides.

The principal industrial method for producing ethylene is the thermal cracking (at 700°-850°C) of liquid petroleum distillates and lower alkanes—mainly ethane and propane (seePETROLEUM REFINING GASES). The separation and purification of ethylene are performed by fractional distillation, fractional absorption, and deep cooling. In the laboratory, ethylene is prepared by the dehydration of ethyl alcohol; this process may be accomplished by various methods, including heating the alcohol with either sulfuric or phosphoric acid.

Ethylene in living organisms. Ethylene is formed in very small amounts in plant and animal tissues as a metabolic intermediate. In the fruits, flowers, leaves, stems, and roots of plants, it interferes with the activity and biosynthesis of a class of plant hormones known as auxins, which similarly inhibit the activity and biosynthesis of ethylene. When ethylene is predominant, it slows the growth of plants and accelerates the aging, ripening, and falling of fruits and the shedding of flowers (or their corollas), pericarp, and leaves; when auxins predominate, their effects include inhibition of the aging, ripening, and falling of fruit. The biosynthetic pathways of ethylene and its metabolism in plant tissues have not been definitively established.

Ethylene is used to accelerate the ripening of fruits (including tomatoes, melons, oranges, mandarins, lemons, and bananas), defoliate plants, reduce the falling of fruits before the harvest, and reduce the strength of the attachment of the fruit to the mother plant (thus facilitating mechanized harvesting). In high concentrations, ethylene has an anesthetic effect on humans and animals.


Jensen, E. “Etilen i poliatsetileny.” Biokhimiia rastenii. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from English.)
“Stimuliatsiia i tormozhenie fiziologicheskikh protsessov u rastenii.” In the collection Istoriia i sovremennoe sostoianoe fiziologii rastenii. Moscow, 1967.



(organic chemistry)
C2H4 A colorless, flammable gas, boiling at -102.7°C; used as an agricultural chemical, in medicine, and for the manufacture of organic chemicals and polyethylene. Also known as ethene; olefiant gas.


a colourless flammable gaseous alkene with a sweet odour, obtained from petroleum and natural gas and used in the manufacture of polythene and many other chemicals. Formula: CH2:CH2
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