Tetrahydrofuran is a colorless, water-miscible organic liquid with low viscosity
Viscosity is a measure of the resistance of a fluid which is being deformed by either shear or tensile stress. In everyday terms , viscosity is "thickness" or "internal friction". Thus, water is "thin", having a lower viscosity, while honey is "thick", having a higher viscosity...

 at standard temperature and pressure
Standard conditions for temperature and pressure
Standard condition for temperature and pressure are standard sets of conditions for experimental measurements established to allow comparisons to be made between different sets of data...

. This heterocyclic
Heterocyclic compound
A heterocyclic compound is a cyclic compound which has atoms of at least two different elements as members of its ring. The counterparts of heterocyclic compounds are homocyclic compounds, the rings of which are made of a single element....

 compound has the chemical formula (CH2)4O. As one of the most polar ether
Ethers are a class of organic compounds that contain an ether group — an oxygen atom connected to two alkyl or aryl groups — of general formula R–O–R'. A typical example is the solvent and anesthetic diethyl ether, commonly referred to simply as "ether"...

s with a wide liquid range, it is a useful solvent. Its main use, however, is as a precursor to polymers. THF has an odor similar to its chemical cousin, diethyl ether
Diethyl ether
Diethyl ether, also known as ethyl ether, simply ether, or ethoxyethane, is an organic compound in the ether class with the formula . It is a colorless, highly volatile flammable liquid with a characteristic odor...

, but is a much less potent anesthetic than diethyl ether.


About two hundred thousand tonnes of tetrahydrofuran are produced annually. The most widely used industrial process involves the acid-catalyzed dehydration of 1,4-butanediol
1,4-Butanediol is the organic compound with the formula HOCH2CH2CH2CH2OH. This colorless viscous liquid is derived from butane by placement of alcohol groups at each end of the chain. It is one of four stable isomers of butanediol.-Synthesis:...

, akin to the production of diethyl ether
Diethyl ether
Diethyl ether, also known as ethyl ether, simply ether, or ethoxyethane, is an organic compound in the ether class with the formula . It is a colorless, highly volatile flammable liquid with a characteristic odor...

 from ethanol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

. The butanediol is derived from carbonylation
Carbonylation refers to reactions that introduce carbon monoxide into organic and inorganic substrates. Carbon monoxide is abundantly available and conveniently reactive, so it is widely used as a reactant in industrial chemistry.-Organic chemistry:...

 of acetylene
Acetylene is the chemical compound with the formula C2H2. It is a hydrocarbon and the simplest alkyne. This colorless gas is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is unstable in pure form and thus is usually handled as a solution.As an alkyne, acetylene is unsaturated because...

 followed by hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

. Du Pont developed a process for producing THF by oxidizing n-butane to crude maleic anhydride
Maleic anhydride
Maleic anhydride is an organic compound with the formula C2H22O. It is the acid anhydride of maleic acid and in its pure state it is a colourless or white solid with an acrid odour....

 followed by catalytic hydrogenation. A third major industrial route entails hydroformylation
Hydroformylation, also known as oxo synthesis or oxo process, is an important industrial process for the production of aldehydes from alkenes. This chemical reaction entails the addition of a formyl group and a hydrogen atom to a carbon-carbon double bond...

 of allyl alcohol
Allyl alcohol
Allyl alcohol is an organic compound with the structural formula CH2=CHCH2OH. Like many alcohols,it is a water soluble, colourless liquid, but it is more toxic than typical small alcohols. Allyl alcohol is used as a raw material for the production of glycerol, but is used as a precursor to many...

 followed by hydrogenation to the butanediol.

THF can also be synthesized by catalytic hydrogenation of furan
Furan is a heterocyclic organic compound, consisting of a five-membered aromatic ring with four carbon atoms and one oxygen. The class of compounds containing such rings are also referred to as furans....

. Where furan is derived from pentose
A pentose is a monosaccharide with five carbon atoms. Pentoses are organized into two groups. Aldopentoses have an aldehyde functional group at position 1...

, this method can involve renewable resources. Nevertheless, this route is not widely practiced.


THF can be polymerized by strong acids to give a linear polymer called poly(tetramethylene ether) glycol (PTMEG), CAS Registry Number
CAS registry number
CAS Registry Numbersare unique numerical identifiers assigned by the "Chemical Abstracts Service" toevery chemical described in the...

 [25190-06-1], also known as PTMO, polytetramethylene oxide. The primary use of this polymer is to make elastomeric polyurethane
A polyurethane is any polymer composed of a chain of organic units joined by carbamate links. Polyurethane polymers are formed through step-growth polymerization, by reacting a monomer with another monomer in the presence of a catalyst.Polyurethanes are...

 fibers like Spandex
Spandex or elastane is a synthetic fibre known for its exceptional elasticity. It is strong, but less durable than natural Latex, its major non-synthetic competitor. It is a polyurethane-polyurea copolymer that was co-invented in 1959 by chemists C. L. Sandquist and Joseph Shivers at DuPont's...


As a solvent

The other main application of THF is as an industrial solvent for PVC
Polyvinyl chloride is a plastic.PVC may also refer to:*Param Vir Chakra, India's highest military honor*Peripheral venous catheter, a small, flexible tube placed into a peripheral vein in order to administer medication or fluids...

 and in varnish
Varnish is a transparent, hard, protective finish or film primarily used in wood finishing but also for other materials. Varnish is traditionally a combination of a drying oil, a resin, and a thinner or solvent. Varnish finishes are usually glossy but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss...

es. It is an aprotic
Protic solvent
In chemistry a protic solvent is a solvent that has a hydrogen atom bound to an oxygen or a nitrogen . In general terms, any molecular solvent that contains dissociable H+ is called a protic solvent. The molecules of such solvents can donate an H+...

A solvent is a liquid, solid, or gas that dissolves another solid, liquid, or gaseous solute, resulting in a solution that is soluble in a certain volume of solvent at a specified temperature...

 with a dielectric constant
Dielectric constant
The relative permittivity of a material under given conditions reflects the extent to which it concentrates electrostatic lines of flux. In technical terms, it is the ratio of the amount of electrical energy stored in a material by an applied voltage, relative to that stored in a vacuum...

 of 7.6. It is a moderately polar solvent and can dissolve a wide range of nonpolar and polar chemical compounds. THF is water-miscible, and can form solid clathrate hydrate
Clathrate hydrate
Clathrate hydrates are crystalline water-based solids physically resembling ice, in which small non-polar molecules or polar molecules with large hydrophobic moieties are trapped inside "cages" of hydrogen bonded water molecules...

 structures with water at low temperatures.

Laboratory use

Although a minor application, THF is a popular solvent in the laboratory when a moderately higher-boiling ethereal solvent is required and its water miscibility is not an issue. The oxygen center of ethers can coordinate to Lewis acid
Lewis acid
]The term Lewis acid refers to a definition of acid published by Gilbert N. Lewis in 1923, specifically: An acid substance is one which can employ a lone pair from another molecule in completing the stable group of one of its own atoms. Thus, H+ is a Lewis acid, since it can accept a lone pair,...

s such as Li+, Mg2+, and borane
In chemistry, a borane is a chemical compound of boron and hydrogen. The boranes comprise a large group of compounds with the generic formulae of BxHy. These compounds do not occur in nature. Many of the boranes readily oxidise on contact with air, some violently. The parent member BH3 is called...

s, forming adduct
An adduct is a product of a direct addition of two or more distinct molecules, resulting in a single reaction product containing all atoms of all components. The resultant is considered a distinct molecular species...

s. Hence, like diethyl ether, THF can be used in hydroboration reactions to synthesize primary alcohols, and as a solvent for organometallic compounds such as organolithium and Grignard reagents. Although similar to diethyl ether, THF is a stronger base. Thus, while diethyl ether remains the solvent of choice for some reactions (e.g., Grignard reactions), THF fills that role in many others where strong coordination is desirable, and the precise properties of ethereal solvents such as these (alone and in mixtures and at various temperatures) allows for fine-tuning modern chemical reactions.

THF is often used in polymer science. For example, it can be used to dissolve polymers prior to determining its molecular mass using gel permeation chromatography
Gel Permeation Chromatography
Gel permeation chromatography is a type of size exclusion chromatography , that separates analytes on the basis of size. The technique is often used for the analysis of polymers. As a technique, SEC was first developed in 1955 by Lathe and Ruthven. The term gel permeation chromatography can be...

. THF dissolves PVC as well and is the main ingredient in PVC adhesives. It can be used to liquefy old PVC cement, and is often used industrially to degrease
Grease (lubricant)
The term grease is used to describe semisolid lubricants. Although the word grease is also used to describe rendered fat of animals, in the context of lubrication, grease typically applies to a material consisting of a soap emulsified with mineral or vegetable oil...

 metal parts.


2-Methyltetrahydrofuran is an organic compound with the molecular formula CH3C4H7O. It is a highly flammable mobile liquid. It is mainly used as a replacement for THF in specialized applications for its better performance, such as to obtain higher reaction temperatures, or easier separations due to...

 (2MeTHF) is a THF alternative that is being promoted as being more ecologically friendly. Whereas 2-MeTHF is more expensive, it may provide for greater overall process economy. 2MeTHF has solvating properties that are intermediate between diethyl ether and THF, has limited water-miscibility, and forms an azeotrope
An azeotrope is a mixture of two or more liquids in such a ratio that its composition cannot be changed by simple distillation. This occurs because, when an azeotrope is boiled, the resulting vapor has the same ratio of constituents as the original mixture....

 with water on distillation. Its lower melting point makes it useful for lower temperature reactions, and its higher boiling point allows procedures under reflux at higher temperatures (relative to THF).


THF is considered a relatively nontoxic solvent, with the median lethal dose (LD50) comparable to that for acetone
Acetone is the organic compound with the formula 2CO, a colorless, mobile, flammable liquid, the simplest example of the ketones.Acetone is miscible with water and serves as an important solvent in its own right, typically as the solvent of choice for cleaning purposes in the laboratory...

. Reflecting its remarkable solvent properties, it penetrates the skin causing rapid dehydration. THF readily dissolves latex and is typically handled with nitrile or neoprene rubber gloves. It is highly flammable.

The greatest danger posed by THF follows from its tendency to form highly-explosive peroxide
Organic peroxide
Organic peroxides are organic compounds containing the peroxide functional group . If the R' is hydrogen, the compound is called an organic hydroperoxide. Peresters have general structure RCOOR. The O-O bond easily breaks and forms free radicals of the form RO·...

s on storage in air. To minimize this problem, commercial samples of THF are often inhibited with BHT
Butylated hydroxytoluene
Butylated hydroxytoluene , also known as butylhydroxytoluene, is a lipophilic organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive as well as an antioxidant additive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil, and embalming...

. THF should not be distilled to dryness, because the explosive peroxides concentrate in the residue.

General reference

  • Loudon, G. Mark. Organic Chemistry 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

    . 2002. pg 318

External links

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