Butane is a popular fuel in many places and it’s a colorless gas at room temperature which can easily be made into liquid under pressure. It was discovered by Edward Frankland back in 1849 and has been in use by humanity ever since. The big question though is whether or not butane presents a fire hazard and if so, what should we do about it?
Butane is highly flammable and burns very easily at room temperature. It has a flashpoint of -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 Celcius) and an auto-ignition temperature of 689 degrees Fahrenheit (365 Celsius).
It must be stored very carefully if it is to be used as a fuel source. Given how commonly butane is used as a fuel around the world, everyone should know, at least a little, about fire safety concerning butane. Here’s what you need to know.
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Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
- What Is Butane?
- Is Butane Flammable?
- Difference Between Butane Fuel and Butane Gas?
- Is Butane Safe Indoors?
- Are Butane Stoves Banned?
- What Is Safer Propane or Butane?
What Is Butane?
Butane is a gas that is part of the alkane family (that is it’s made of pure carbon and hydrogen with single bonds between all atoms).
It has the chemical formula C4H10 and is the fourth alkane in the series which also includes methane and ethane.
It vaporizes nearly instantly at room temperature and is a gas at room temperature.
There is a common isomer of butane (an isomer is a chemical with the same formula C4H10 but with a different molecular shape and layout) which is methylpropane.
The difference is that butane has a straight chain of 4 carbon atoms running through it, but methylpropane has 3 carbon atoms in a chain with a branch on the 2nd (center) carbon atom.
How Is It Used?
Butane’s main use is as a fuel and it’s the core ingredient of Liquid Petroleum Gas (though other hydrocarbon gasses are also present in this fuel) and for blending with gasoline.
It can also be used to produce more complex hydrocarbons such as ethylene and also to make synthetic rubber.
It is also the typical gas used as fuel in cigarette lighters and it is used in most deodorants as an aerosol propellant.
It may, in its purest form, be used as a refrigerant too.
Is Butane Flammable?
Yes, butane is highly flammable and will burn very easily in the presence of a spark or naked flame at room temperature.
It is heavier than air which means it tends to accumulate in a space and can travel very long distances between the container it escapes from and the point of ignition.
It’s worth noting that if a naked flame comes into contact with a butane container, which will typically be a pressurized metal cylinder, there is a large risk of the cylinder exploding.
Take a look at this video to see:
Also read: How Hot Does Propane Burn? Answered
Is It Flammable In Air?
Yes. It’s worth noting that without oxygen, nothing is flammable, as burning requires oxygen and fuel.
As long as there is oxygen present, butane will burn relatively easily under almost all conditions.
Are Butane Derivatives Highly Flammable?
Yes, not only is butane highly flammable but so are butane derivative gasses.
They share the same properties as butane in other ways too including the fact they are colorless and easy to be liquified at room temperature.
Difference Between Butane Fuel and Butane Gas?
Yes. Butane gas is, generally speaking, considered to be a pure form of butane and contains mainly butane.
But “butane fuel” is actually mainly made up of propane (85% approximately of the total volume) which is just 2.5% butane in the United States.
These percentages are not constant globally and in some countries, the percentage of butane in “butane fuel” may be considerably higher, up to 50% of the total volume.
Is Butane Safe Indoors?
Assuming here, that you are asking whether it’s safe to use butane as a fuel indoors for a butane stove, then the answer is, yes.
Butane burns, as do all alkanes, relatively cleanly producing just carbon dioxide and water as byproducts.
Neither of these byproducts is toxic in its own right and while carbon dioxide can be an asphyxiation risk, it’s very unlikely that you would generate enough using a stove to be a concern, though it’s a good idea to ensure any room that you burn butane is well-ventilated just in case.
Is It Toxic To Humans?
Butane is toxic, but not very toxic.
In the vast majority of cases, such as catching the scent of butane when lighting a cigarette, the level of exposure would be so low as to be harmless.
However, in higher doses, you can find that inhaling butane can make you euphoric, drowsy, unconscious, and in extreme cases, it can cause memory loss, extreme fluctuations in blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmia, and even death.
This means that butane has abuse potential, but it is a very dangerous thing to do for fun, more than half of the solvent deaths in the UK and the United States are from sniffing butane.
And don’t think you can do it once and get away with it, in fact, 55% of all butane inhalation deaths are caused by the first experiment with doing so.
Does It Burn Clean?
Butane burns relatively cleanly producing just hydrogen and carbon dioxide as long as there’s enough oxygen to burn fully.
Are Butane Stoves Banned?
No, but the Australian state of New South Wales has banned “lunchbox style” butane gas stoves because of safety concerns.
They say that the stoves are linked to fires due to overheating when in use.
What Is Safer Propane or Butane?
Neither. Both propane and butane are relatively safe fuels that burn cleanly and are mainly non-toxic.
However, butane is better for the environment as it’s easier to transport due to the fact it liquefies easily at room temperature.