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Students learn to identify that ethylene, because of the high reactivity of its double bond is readily transformed into many useful products

Ethene (C2H4) is produced by thermal cracking of low molecular weight hydrocarbons. Natural gas (or gas oils from the catalytic cracking of crude oil) are heated to 750-900 °C in the presence of steam. We don't burn ethene (what a dreadful waste of a great industrial feedstock that would be), but use it as the basis for other chemicals. It is also known as "ethylene".

In 1999 world production capacity of ethene was 85 million tonnes per annum. This is expected to rise to 115 million tonnes by 2005, as natural gas producing countries in the Middle East and Latin America shift to value-added industries from primary production. (Statistics from:

Tragically, until the 1970's vast quantities of natural gas were burnt off at the well-head, since it was uneconomic to ship it to market.

The ethene molecule

Ethene is a valuable intermediate - a compound that can be readily converted into many other useful chemical compound.

Perhaps the most important is the polymer made by linking many ethene molecules together - polyethene.