Although the two chemicals sound similar, cyclohexane and hexane are incredibly different. This blog post will outline why these two chemicals share more than linguistic structure and how they’re used industrially.
Properties and Structure of Cyclohexane vs. Hexane
On a molecular level, cyclohexane is a liquid comprised of 6 carbon and 12 hydrogen atoms. Its three single pairs of carbon-to-carbon bonds form a ring—the remaining hydrogen atoms bond to each carbon atom in pairs of two.
Imagine a bird’s-eye view of six friends standing in a circle with their arms stretched out in front of them; their heads would be the carbon while their arms would be the hydrogen.
This structure makes cyclohexane what chemists call a cycloalkane, which is defined as being:
- Structurally situated in a single ring.
- Resists “addition” reactions (i.e., less reactive substance)
- Molecular structure of only hydrogen and carbon
Both clear chemicals share an easy-to-identify, detergent-like scent and are nonpolar and flammable.
While also a saturated hydrocarbon, hexane is less condensed than its counterpart and therefore more volatile.
With its 6 carbon and 14 hydrogen atoms, two of the carbon atoms end up with a third hydrogen bond and make the structure linear. In this case, the six friends stand single file with their arms stretched to the side, except the friends at the front and the back of the line have one leg stretched away from their friends.
Industry Uses of Cyclohexane and Hexane
Both hexane and cyclohexane are excellent for edible-oil extraction. Each chemical has the same appearance and odor, but cyclohexane is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to hexane because it is comparatively less hazardous to the environment.
The only downside is that hexane is easier to separate from oil using a methanol rinse. Those who want to switch to the alternative will likely need to update their method.
Outside of edible-oil extraction, hexane is used as an industrial degreasing agent and cleaning solvent. Cyclohexane is mainly utilized for nylon production but is popular with paint and varnish manufacturers.
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