Is methane organic or inorganic? Do you really find it confusing? You are certainly not alone!
Methane is an odorless and colorless gas. Marsh gas, or methyl hydride, is another name for it.
Its vapors are lighter than air and catch fire quite easily. In fact, the canisters could burst into flames or explode if they are subjected to high temperatures for too long.
Okay, but is methane gas organic or inorganic?
Methane is organic because it consists of hydrogen and carbon, and hydrocarbons are always considered organic.
The Interesting Chemistry of Methane
First identified by an Italian physicist in 1776, methane has the molecular formula CH4, and is the simplest saturated hydrocarbon, with a single carbon and four hydrogen atoms.
It lacks both color and odor, yet it may have a faint, pleasant oil aroma. It is a combustible, non-toxic gas that can be easily ignited.
The molecule has four C-H bonds, making it a tetrahedron.
Anaerobes living in the intestines are responsible for its production.
However, atmospheric methane is the gas rising to the surface of the atmosphere from its natural sources underneath the ground and in the ocean.
Properties of Methane
It is estimated that human activities are responsible for about 70 percent of methane emissions, making it one of the most significant greenhouse gases.
Pure methane comes with an energy density of 55.7 MJ/kg and is an extremely useful feedstock for many different energy-related applications, including but not limited to:
- Power generation
- Home heating and cooking
Certain Uses of Methane
Methane is used in various ways today. For instance, it is used:
- In ovens, automobiles, and heaters as a fuel
- As rocket fuel
- In power generation
- As an antifreeze ingredient
- To sanitize products
- In fertilizers
- In the testing of gas appliances
- In gas cookers
- … and so much more!
Fact: contributing to ground-level ozone, methane can irritate the airways, leading to lung malfunction, and resulting in a burning sensation or asthma complications.
An Interesting Role of Methane
Colon anaerobes create methane (CH4), which is then absorbed by the body and exhaled as a gas.
This means that the amount of CH4 exhaled during breathing can be used as a gauge of the methanogenic flora’s activity close to the source.
Humans only make CH4 as a by-product of intestinal bacteria, and around half of that is absorbed and exhaled as CO2.
It is possible that a comparable quantitative examination of expired air may be used to evaluate the intracolonic activity of various microorganisms.
Measuring breath CH4 is a straightforward, quick, and semi-quantitative way to monitor the in-situ metabolism of methanogenic flora.
It is mainly because it seems to be unaffected by other intestinal species or host cells.
Is Methane Organic or Inorganic?
Because of its chemical makeup, methane is considered organic.
If you look closely at the chemical formula of methane, you will find that it has a combination of 4 molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of carbon.
Now, by definition, organic substances always contain at least one carbon atom, while inorganic compounds typically do not.
Almost all chemical bonds in organic molecules are carbon-hydrogen bonds. And that is exactly how it is in the case of methane.
Fact: Though quite rare, organic molecules can exist without a C-H bond, like in CCl4, which is typically placed in the category of organic chemicals.
Learning More about Methane and Organic Compounds
So, is methane an organic or inorganic compound?
Chemicals having carbon-based molecular structures have traditionally been linked to biological processes.
The original reason for this link was the assumption that organic substances could only be produced by living things.
True, up until 1828, no organic compound had ever been successfully synthesized using only inorganic reagents.
But, before going any further with how methane is organic, it is important to understand how to differentiate between organic and inorganic compounds.
Difference Between Organic and Inorganic Molecules
There is a widespread belief that both organic and inorganic chemicals fall within a large category. But, there are certain differences.
And the presence or lack of carbon atoms is not the only distinguishing feature between these molecules.
To put it simply, organic substances are those that have been produced by living organisms, while inorganic compounds are those that have not.
In most cases, organic molecules are derived from living organisms or laboratory operations.
On the other hand, inorganic compounds are formed through natural processes that have nothing to do with or impact any life on Earth.
What’s more, there are some other notable differences as well. For instance:
- Only elements in the p-block are ever found in organic molecules, and carbon is always present.
- Most organic substances only exist as molecules, which is quite unlike salts.
Therefore, in organic substances, every bond is a covalent one. And the earliest organic molecule was methane (CH4).
The Effect of Organic Methane on the Environment
The key component of natural gas is methane (CH4), a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG).
When released into the atmosphere, greenhouse gases insulate the earth by soaking up the heat and reducing the pace at which it escapes.
Methane is exceptional at soaking up this kind of energy.
But, are greenhouse gases, like methane, really that bad? Not really!
Greenhouse gases trap heat from the atmosphere, keeping Earth’s average temperature above freezing.
However, the greenhouse has become stronger over the previous few centuries, leading to a rate of warming that many find concerning.
The Issue of Ground-Level Ozone and Methane
Ground-level ozone is a dangerous air pollutant and greenhouse gas contributes to 1 million annual premature deaths.
And guess what, methane is the principal source of its creation.
Like carbon dioxide, methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It has an 80-times greater warming effect than carbon dioxide over 20 years.
Since the industrial revolution, methane has been responsible for around 30% of the increase in global temperature, and its production has been higher now since the 1980s.
While carbon dioxide emissions slowed in 2020 due to security precautions taken in the face of a pandemic, methane levels in the atmosphere rose dramatically.
Fact: Interestingly, the first "organic" substance ever made (ammonium cyanate ) is currently classified as an inorganic compound (urea).
Methane Vs. Carbon Dioxide
Methane is a short-lived greenhouse gas that is second in abundance on Earth only to carbon dioxide (CO2).
And yet, methane is a far more significant contributor to global warming.
Methane is 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide in warming the planet over a 100-year period.
When looked at over a period of 20 years, that ratio increases by about 80 times.
When released into the atmosphere, methane undergoes a number of potentially harmful reactions.
One reason is that oxidation predominantly accounts for removing methane from the atmosphere, in the form of water vapor and CO2.
Therefore, methane indirectly contributes to global warming by causing the emission of carbon dioxide.
In addition, hydroxyl radicals interact with methane during the oxidation process.
These naturally occurring chemicals act as a detergent and remove methane and various other air pollutants.
This means that methane limits the availability of hydroxyl radicals, which are necessary to remove other forms of air pollutants.
Reducing the Impact of Organic Methane
Without doubt, reduced atmospheric methane concentrations will mitigate these effects.
And ultimately, it will lead to reduced global warming. But, how can it be done?
For starters, people all across the world need to reevaluate their practices in the fields and barns.
- Making use of cutting-edge tools
- Adopting more plant-based diets
- Exploring novel protein options
Taking these steps is essential if we are to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and keep global warming below 1.5°C, as aimed for in the Paris climate change accord.
Fact: Scientists estimate that human activity accounts for around 60% of atmospheric methane, with the other 40% coming from natural sources.
Is methane organic or inorganic? Any molecule with both carbon and hydrogen is considered an organic compound by convention.
The chemical formula for methane is C1H4; that is one carbon and four hydrogen atoms. It is completely organic then.
However, learning about how methane contributes to climate change is crucial. If we take the required precautions to reduce its emissions, it can help the environment as a whole.