What is Butane?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

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.

Butane is a common fuel used in inexpensive cigarette lighters.
Butane is a common fuel used in inexpensive 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.

Molecular structure of butane.
Molecular structure of butane.

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.

Butane is often combined with propane to form a product called liquid propane gas, which can be used in camping stoves.
Butane is often combined with propane to form a product called liquid propane gas, which can be used in camping stoves.

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.

Butane might be used in outdoor gas-powered grills.
Butane might be used in outdoor gas-powered grills.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


Can you solidify butane?


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


@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.


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.


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


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?


"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.


What is the history of butane, especially in Texas?


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.


how do you use it?


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


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


What pressure is BTU?


How much is the average price in England?


At what temp. does Butane turn into a liquid?


Is hash oil derived with butane safe?


What is the size of a molecule of ethane?

What is the size of a molecule of butane?


At what temp. does butane turn into a liquid?


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?


what is the use of butane?


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


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


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?


Why are particular hydrocarbons produced in large quantities?


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!


is it safe to take butane?

please comment back asap!!!


what happens when liquid butane is mixed with melting ice?


Is butane the gas used in aerosols as insect killers?


is mixed c4 the same as crude c4?


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


can i use a butane fire with LPG?


do you have more information about butane?

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