Acetylene is the chemical compound with the formula C2H2 and structure H−C≡C−H. It is a hydrocarbon and the simplest alkyne. This colourless gas is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is unstable in its pure form and thus is usually handled as a solution. Pure acetylene is odourless, but commercial grades usually have a marked odour due to impurities such as divinyl sulfide and phosphine
Acetylene was discovered in 1836 by Edmund Davy, who identified it as a “new carburet of hydrogen”. It was an accidental discovery while attempting to isolate potassium metal. By heating potassium carbonate with carbon at very high temperatures, he produced a residue of what is now known as potassium carbide, (K2C2), which reacted with water to release the new gas.
It was rediscovered in 1860 by French chemist Marcellin Berthelot, who coined the name acétylène. Berthelot’s empirical formula for acetylene (C4H2), as well as the alternative name “quadricarbure d’hydrogène” (hydrogen quadricarbide), were incorrect because many chemists at that time used the wrong atomic mass for carbon (6 instead of 12). Berthelot was able to prepare this gas by passing vapours of organic compounds (methanol, ethanol, etc.) through a red hot tube and collecting the effluent. He also found that acetylene was formed by sparking electricity through mixed cyanogen and hydrogen gases. Berthelot later obtained acetylene directly by passing hydrogen between the poles of a carbon arc.