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Infobox on Ethylene
Example of Ethylene
Origin -
Stowage factor (in m3/t) -
Humidity / moisture -
Ventilation -
Risk factors See text



Ethylene is a colourless gas with a sweet odour and taste. Ethylene is produced in the petrochemical industry by steam cracking. In this process, gaseous or light liquid hydrocarbons are heated to 750–950°C, inducing numerous free radical reactions followed by immediate quench to stop these reactions. This process converts large hydrocarbons into smaller ones and introduces unsaturation. Ethylene is separated from the resulting complex mixture by repeated compression and distillation. In a related process used in oil refineries, high molecular weight hydrocarbons are cracked over zeolite catalysts. Heavier feedstocks, such as naphtha and gas oils require at least two "quench towers" downstream of the cracking furnaces to recirculate pyrolysis-derived gasoline and process water. When cracking a mixture of ethane and propane, only one water quench tower is required.

Ethylene is the simplest member of the olefin family, the largest volume organic chemical and is used in more than 30% of all petrochemical products. Because of its unsaturated nature, ethylene is very reactive and it has become one of the main building blocks of the petrochemical industry. The principal source of ethylene in Europe is the steam cracking of naphtha, while the United States traditionally has obtained its ethylene supplies from natural gas liquids.

The main attractions of ethylene to the chemical industry have been the ready availability of this feedstock, a reasonable cost and high purity. More than two-thirds of its utilization is for the production of polymers, a fast expanding sector.


Polyethylene, polypropylene, ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride, ethylene glycols, aluminium alkyls, vinyl chloride, vinyl acetate, ethyl chloride, ethylene chlorohydrin, acetaldehyde, Ethyl Alcohol, polystyrene, styrene, polyvinyl chloride, SBR, polyester resins, trichloroethylene, etc.; refrigerant, welding and cutting of metals, anesthetic, in orchard sprays to accelerate fruit ripening.

Shipment / Storage

Physical state gas
Colour colorless
Physical form compressed gas
Odour Sweet odour
Taste Sweet taste
Molecular weight 28.05
Molecular formula C-H2-C-H2
Boiling point -155°F (-104°C)
Freezing point -169°C
Lower flammable limit 2.7%
Upper flammable limit 36%
Autoignition -450°C)

Conditions to avoid: Avoid heat, flames, sparks and other sources of ignition. Minimize contact with material. Containers may rupture or explode if exposed to heat.

Risk factors

Highly flammable, dangerous fire and explosion risk; explosive limits in air 3-36% by volume.

For overseas carriage aspects of Chemicals, the readers are recommended to acquire or have access to a good chemical dictionary, and a copy of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, issued by the International Maritime Organisation. Also consult the applicable MSDS sheet.

See also: