Ethylene and acetylene are synonyms in the IUPAC nomenclature system for ethene and ethyne, respectively. Higher alkenes and alkynes are named by counting the number of carbons in the longest continuous chain that includes the double or triple bond and appending an -ene (alkene) or -yne (alkyne) suffix to the stem name of the unbranched alkane having that number of carbons. The chain is numbered in the direction that gives the lowest number to the first multiply bonded carbon, and adding it as a prefix to the name. Once the chain is numbered with respect to the multiple bond, substituents attached to the parent chain are listed in alphabetical order and their positions identified by number.
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Compounds that contain two double bonds are classified as dienes, those with three as trienes, and so forth. Dienes are named by replacing the -ane suffix of the corresponding alkane by -adiene and identifying the positions of the double bonds by numerical locants. Dienes are classified as cumulated, conjugated, or isolated according to whether the double bonds constitute a C=C=C unit, a C=C―C=C unit, or a C=C―(CXY)n―C=C unit, respectively.
Double bonds can be incorporated into rings of all sizes, resulting in cycloalkenes. In naming substituted derivatives of cycloalkenes, numbering begins at and continues through the double bond.
Unlike rotation about carbon-carbon single bonds, which is exceedingly rapid, rotation about carbon-carbon double bonds does not occur under normal circumstances. Stereoisomerism is therefore possible in those alkenes in which neither carbon atom bears two identical substituents. In most cases, the names of stereoisomeric alkenes are distinguished by cis-trans notation. (An alternative method, based on the Cahn-Ingold-Prelog system and using E and Z prefixes, is also used.) Cycloalkenes in which the ring has eight or more carbons are capable of existing as cis or trans stereoisomers. trans-Cycloalkenes are too unstable to isolate when the ring has seven or fewer carbons.
Because the C―C≡C―C unit of an alkyne is linear, cycloalkynes are possible only when the number of carbon atoms in the ring is large enough to confer the flexibility necessary to accommodate this geometry. Cyclooctyne (C8H12) is the smallest cycloalkyne capable of being isolated and stored as a stable compound.
Ethylene is formed in small amounts as a plant hormone. The biosynthesis of ethylene involves an enzyme-catalyzed decomposition of a novel amino acid, and, once formed, ethylene stimulates the ripening of fruits.
Alkenes are abundant in the essential oils of trees and other plants. (Essential oils are responsible for the characteristic odour, or “essence,” of the plant from which they are obtained.) Myrcene and limonene, for example, are alkenes found in bayberry and lime oil, respectively. Oil of turpentine, obtained by distilling the exudate from pine trees, is a mixture of hydrocarbons rich in α-pinene. α-Pinene is used as a paint thinner as well as a starting material for the preparation of synthetic camphor, drugs, and other chemicals.
Other naturally occurring hydrocarbons with double bonds include plant pigments such as lycopene, which is responsible for the red colour of ripe tomatoes and watermelon. Lycopene is a polyene (meaning many double bonds) that belongs to a family of 40-carbon hydrocarbons known as carotenes.
The sequence of alternating single and double bonds in lycopene is an example of a conjugated system. The degree of conjugation affects the light-absorption properties of unsaturated compounds. Simple alkenes absorb ultraviolet light and appear colourless. The wavelength of the light absorbed by unsaturated compounds becomes longer as the number of double bonds in conjugation with one another increases, with the result that polyenes containing regions of extended conjugation absorb visible light and appear yellow to red.
The hydrocarbon fraction of natural rubber (roughly 98 percent) is made up of a collection of polymer molecules, each of which contains approximately 20,000 C5H8 structural units joined together in a regular repeating pattern.
Natural products that contain carbon-carbon triple bonds, while numerous in plants and fungi, are far less abundant than those that contain double bonds and are much less frequently encountered.
The lower alkenes (through four-carbon alkenes) are produced commercially by cracking and dehydrogenation of the hydrocarbons present in natural gas and petroleum (see above Alkanes: Chemical reactions). The annual global production of ethylene averages around 75 million metric tons. Analogous processes yield approximately 2 million metric tons per year of 1,3-butadiene (CH2=CHCH=CH2). Approximately one-half of the ethylene is used to prepare polyethylene. Most of the remainder is utilized to make ethylene oxide (for the manufacture of ethylene glycol antifreeze and other products), vinyl chloride (for polymerization to polyvinyl chloride), and styrene (for polymerization to polystyrene). The principal application of propylene is in the preparation of polypropylene. 1,3-Butadiene is a starting material in the manufacture of synthetic rubber (see below Polymerization).
Higher alkenes and cycloalkenes are normally prepared by reactions in which a double bond is introduced into a saturated precursor by elimination (i.e., a reaction in which atoms or ions are lost from a molecule).
Examples include the dehydration of alcohols
These usually are laboratory rather than commercial methods. Alkenes also can be prepared by partial hydrogenation of alkynes (see below Chemical properties).
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Acetylene is prepared industrially by cracking and dehydrogenation of hydrocarbons as described for ethylene (see above Alkanes: Chemical reactions). Temperatures of about 800 °C (1,500 °F) produce ethylene; temperatures of roughly 1,150 °C (2,100 °F) yield acetylene. Acetylene, relative to ethylene, is an unimportant industrial chemical. Most of the compounds capable of being derived from acetylene are prepared more economically from ethylene, which is a less expensive starting material. Higher alkynes can be made from acetylene (see below Chemical properties) or by double elimination of a dihaloalkane (i.e., removal of both halogen atoms from a disubstituted alkane).