Dimethyl ether

July 11, 2022
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Dimethyl ether (DME), a colorless gas, is the simplest aliphatic ether. Also called methyl ether, it is currently produced by dehydrating methanol; but researchers have an eye on it for sustainable production from biogenic methane or biomass derived from cellulose or lignin.

DME is primarily used to make other small molecules such as acetic acid or dimethyl sulfate. It is also a spray-can propellant1 and a refrigerant to replace chlorofluorocarbons. It has been proposed as a cleaner-burning fuel than hydrocarbons.

Far beyond its terrestrial presence, DME was a significant recent discovery in outer space. In March, researchers at Leiden University (the Netherlands) used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array telescope to identify the molecule in a planet-forming disc in the constellation Ophiuchus, 444 light-years from Earth. With nine atoms, DME is the largest molecule yet observed in space.

Always optimistic, some astrobiologists have speculated that the presence of DME could be an indicator of life “out there”.

1. Erik Rotheim, the Norwegian inventor of the spray can, cited the use of DME in one of his patents, US 1,800,156, in 1931.

Dimethyl ether hazard information

Hazard class** GHS code and hazard statement
Flammable gases, category 1 H220—Extremely flammable gas Chemical Safety Warning
Gases under pressure, liquefied gas H280—Contains gas under pressure; may explode if heated Chemical Safety Warning
Simple asphyxiant, category 1*** May displace oxygen and cause rapid suffocation
Specific target organ toxicity, single exposure; narcotic effects, category 3 H336—May cause drowsiness or dizziness Chemical Safety Warning

*Compilation of multiple safety data sheets.
**Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Explanation of pictograms.
***Hazard class not included in GHS; no pictogram assigned.

Molecules from the journals

Iodic acid1 (HIO3) is a white, water-soluble solid with a melting point of 110 °C. It is a relatively strong acid (pKa 7.5) and a powerful oxidizer. One of its main uses is the preparation of iodate salts for use in “iodized” table salt.

This past May, Juan Carlos Gómez Martín, Alfonso Saiz-Lopez, and colleagues at the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (Granada, Spain), the Institute of Physical Chemistry Rocasolano (Madrid), and the University of Leeds (UK) described the role of iodic acid in new-particle formation in marine and polar boundary layers. Particle formation is suspected of accelerating sea ice melting.

Pleuromutilin2 is an antibacterial terpenoid isolated from fungi of the former genus Pleurotus (now Clitopilus) in 1951 by Frederick Kavanagh, Annette Hervey, and William J. Robbins at Columbia University (New York City). Several of its derivatives are the active ingredients in current antibiotics such as lefamulin3 and retapamulin4.

Four research groups reported the total synthesis of pleuromutilin between 1982 to 2017. Just last month, Nicholas J. Foy and Sergey V. Pronin* at the University of California, Irvine, described an improved fifth synthesis. They accomplished the feat in 16 reaction steps from commercially available materials.

1. CAS Reg. No. 7782-68-5. 
2. CAS Reg. No. 125-65-5. 
3. CAS Reg. No. 1061337-51-6. 
4. CAS Reg. No. 224452-66-8.

Molecules from the journals

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Dimethyl ether fast facts

CAS Reg. No. 115-10-6
Methane, 1,1′-oxybis-
Empirical formula C2H6O
Molar mass 46.07 g/mol
Appearance Colorless gas
Boiling point –25 °C
Water solubility 71 g/L (STP)a
Chemical Abstract Service - a division of ACS

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