What Is Anhydrous Diethyl Ether?

Diethyl ether is more commonly called simply ethyl ether, or even more simply as just ether. If it has been carefully dried of all moisture and is referred to as anhydrous. Diethyl ether is of historical importance in anesthesiology. In 1842, it was publicly used for the first time on a patient undergoing neck surgery. Today, it is more likely to be used in a tank of gasoline as a drying agent.

Distinctive Ether Structure

The ethers are organic (carbon-based) compounds containing the carbon-to-oxygen-to carbon, or –C–O–C– linkage. Dehydrating two molecules of alcohol produces an ether linkage.

Ethyl Group

The ethyl group is written C2H5– or –C2H5. Ethyl alcohol is written C2H5OH or C2H5–OH. It is a product of sugar fermentation. Ethyl alcohol is the variety of alcohol found in wine, beer and distilled spirits.

Diethyl Ether

Ordinary ether is called diethyl ether because it is made from two ethyl groups united by an ether linkage (described above).

One way to form it is by the following sequence of reactions:

Sugars, fermented --> C2H5-OH (ethyl alcohol)

2 C2H5-OH --> (C2H5)–O–(C2H5) + H2O

Diethyl ether can also be written: (C2H5)?O


Diethyl ether is made anhydrous by the removal of all traces of water. Non-reactive dehydrating agents are used to accomplish this. Historically, sulfuric acid was the dehydrating agent of choice. Sulfuric acid also removes dangerous peroxides, which are explosive components containing the linkage –C–O–O–C–.

Another Preparative Methodology

Although anhydrous diethyl ether can be made by the dehydration of ethyl alcohol using alumina, it can also be manufactured using the vapor-phase hydration of ethylene:

H2C=CH2 + H–O–H + H2C=CH2 --> (C2H5)–O–(C2H5).

About the Author

Vincent Summers received his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Drexel University in 1973. He furthered his education through the University of Virginia's Citizen Scholar Program program, taking many courses in organic and quantum chemistry. He has written technical articles since 2010.

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