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Ethylene (IUPAC name: ethene) is a hydrocarbon which has 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 second simplest unsaturated hydrocarbon after acetylene (C2H2).
Ethylene is widely used in chemical industry, and its worldwide production exceeds that of any other organic compound. Much of this production goes toward polyethylene, a widely used plastic containing polymer chains of ethylene units in various chain lengths. Ethylene is also an important natural plant hormone, used in agriculture to force the ripening of fruits. Ethylene's hydrate is ethyl alcohol.
Major industrial reactions of ethylene include in order of scale: 1) polymerization, 2) oxidation, 3) halogenation and hydrohalogenation, 4) alkylation, 5) hydration, 6) oligomerization, and 7) hydroformylation. In the United States and Europe, approximately 90% of ethylene is used to produce ethylene oxide, ethylene dichloride, ethylbenzene and polyethylene.