MKing says about CH4
It is one of the more useful molecules out there in the long run,
Sure, from YOUR rather narrow definition of "useful" (It's a hydrocarbon!).
But in the BIOSPHERE that we all depend on, THE most useful molecule in the hydrocarbon pantheon is this one:
Ethylene: The Ripening Hormonehttp://postharvest.tfrec.wsu.edu/pages/PC2000F
Ethylene causes fruit to ripen and plants to die on schedule so they can be recycled into the biosphere. In short it is key to the life cycle of all earthlings. Now THAT is REALLY useful! So you see, I DO recognize that there is ONE hydrocarbon that we really need AS LONG AS WE DON'T BURN IT! C2H4 (Ethylene)Some products produced by ethylene that fossil fuelers and other LIVING BEINGS NEED My favorite HYDROCARBON!
What!? You mean to tell me Agelbert, the quixotic crusader against fossil fuel folly in all its poisonous and biosphere trashing forms has some hydrocarbon love?
Back when I was trying to get through pre-med in the daytime while I worked as a computer analyst in the FAA at night (I was promoted from air traffic control to Automation) I took Botany, one of many biology courses the curriculum required.
Botany was a lot of fun. I learned how they keep grapes from having seeds in them (Gibberrelins) and all sorts of interesting facts about plant biochemistry. But the story of the orange grove fruit warehouses in Florida in the early 20th century was one I liked especially because it is a great example of the scientific method in action. Read on.
The vast orange groves in Florida around 1910 had giant warehouses where picked fruit would be stored while they reached the proper stage of ripeness before shipping them to markets. The oranges are picked nearly full size and still green. They are tough at that stage and not easily bruised by the picking process.
The crop is stored in heated warehouses to finish the ripening process. The oranges, as they ripen, obtain their pretty orange color. The fruit expands somewhat and becomes more fragile but, since they already have them packed in bags or crates ready for shipping, they get to markets pretty well unscathed.
Well, around 1910, the orange growers were sold on electrification of their orange ripening warehouses. They had hitherto used kerosene heaters which sometimes caused a warehouse to burn down and they liked the idea of controlling the temperature within a few degrees to fine tune the ripening process. Boy, were they in for an unpleasant surprise!
They spent small fortunes in electrifying the warehouses with lights and elecric space heaters. The picking season came and they happily picked the crop and stored it in the new and improved hot shot electric heater warehouses. They waited for the oranges to ripen, fill out and turn orange in color. And waited. And waited. Those silly, stubborn oranges refused to ripen! They stayed hard and green.
A bright bulb among the growers, all of whom had ALWAYS believed (wrongly
) that HEAT is what makes fruit ripen, stated that there must have been something besides heat in those old kerosene heaters that made the fruit ripen.
They got a team of scientists to do some experiments with green oranges with and without kerosene heaters at various temperatures and the oranges exposed to the kerosene heaters DID ripen as they always had before irrespective of temperature. Next they identified all the products of combustion of the long chained hydrocarbon called kerosene.
We all know when you burn (oxidize) a hydrocarbon, you get CO2
O. But that is ONLY if you have COMPLETE combustion. A kerosene heater, as many family tragedies can attest to, puts out lots of INCOMPLETE combustion products like CO (carbon monoxide) that will kill you quickly and quietly.
But there is another product of incomplete combustion that burning kerosene puts out. It's called Ethylene.
This tiny molecule is a miracle of plant biochemistry. The scientists determined that ethylene was making the oranges ripen! So the growers had to put the kerosene heaters back in.
Well, they got electric lights out of the deal and plant science took a giant step forward so everything worked out for the best.
The obvious follow up question is, where does the ethylene, now defined as a plant ripening hormone, come from when the oranges ripen on the tree?
From the orange as long as it is connected to the tree when it turns color. Henceforth, whether on the tree or off it, the orange itself keeps putting out ethylene until it rots in preparation for the orange seeds to grow. Pretty neat, huh?
This was a revolutionary development in botany in general and fruit growing in particular. The study of plant hormones grew explosively from that point and many mysteries were (and still are being) solved about how these miraculous photosynthetic life forms function.
What is so amazing to me is that such a simple molecule can do so much. Have you ever put bananas on top of a bowl of fruit containing apples in the bottom? Sure, everyone has. Have you noticed how fast those bananas get overripe when they are on top of apples? YEP, ripe apples are one of the highest ethylene producers out there!
Those bananas produce much less but when the added apple ethylene whacks them, here come the brown spots!
So now you know that, if you have a well ventilated area and happen to have brought some green bananas from the store that you are worried about "going bad" before ripening or just refusing to turn yellow as sometimes happens, get a small hurricane kerosene lamp and put it in the vicinity of the bananas and I guarantee you they will ripen. You can impress your spouse with your botany smarts. Ethylene
(IUPAC name: ethene
) is a hydrocarbon with the formula C2H4 or H2C=CH2. It is a colorless flammable gas with a faint "sweet and musky" odor when pure. It is the simplest alkene (a hydrocarbon with carbon-carbon double bonds), and the simplest unsaturated hydrocarbon after acetylene (C2H2).Ethylene is widely used in chemical industry, and its worldwide production (over 109 million tonnes in 2006) exceeds that of any other organic compound. Ethylene is also an important natural plant hormone, used in agriculture to force the ripening of fruits.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethylene