Methane can be prepared in the laboratory by heating sodium acetate with sodium hydroxide, by the reaction of aluminum carbide with water, by the direct combination of carbon and hydrogen, or by the destructive distillation of coal or wood. As natural gas, methane is widely used for fuel. It is also used for carbonizing steel. It is unaffected by many common chemical reagents but reacts violently with chlorine or fluorine in the presence of light and is therefore important as a starting material for the synthesis of solvents, e.g., methylene chloride, chloroform, and carbon tetrachloride, and of some of the Freon refrigerants.
Organic compound, chemical formula CH4, colourless, odourless gas that occurs in natural gas (called firedamp in coal mines) and from bacterial decomposition of vegetation in the absence of oxygen (including in the rumens of cattle and other ruminants and in the gut of termites). The simplest member of the paraffin hydrocarbons, methane burns readily, forming carbon dioxide and water if supplied with enough oxygen for complete combustion or carbon monoxide if the oxygen is insufficient. Mixtures of 5–14percnt methane in air are explosive and have caused many mine disasters. The chief source of methane is natural gas, but it can also be produced from coal. Abundant, cheap, and clean, methane is used widely as a fuel in homes, commercial establishments, and factories; as a safety measure, it is mixed with trace amounts of an odorant to allow its detection. It is also a raw material for many industrial materials, including fertilizers, explosives, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and carbon black, and is the principal source of methanol.
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