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Structural formula of acrylonitrile.svg
Preferred IUPAC name
Other names
Vinyl cyanide (VCN)
Cyanoethylene [1]
Propenenitrile [1]
Vinyl nitrile
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.003.152 OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
EC Number
  • 608-003-00-4
PubChem CID
RTECS number
  • AT5250000
UN number 1093
  • InChI=1S/C3H3N/c1-2-3-4/h2H,1H2 Yes check.svgY
  • InChI=1/C3H3N/c1-2-3-4/h2H,1H2
  • N#CC=C
Molar mass 53.064 g·mol−1
AppearanceColourless liquid
Density 0.81 g/cm3
Melting point −84 °C (−119 °F; 189 K)
Boiling point 77 °C (171 °F; 350 K)
70 g/L
log P 0.19 [2]
Vapor pressure 83 mmHg [1]
Occupational safety and health (OHS/OSH):
Main hazards
potential occupational carcinogen [1]
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
Flash point −1 °C; 30 °F; 272 K
471 °C (880 °F; 744 K)
Explosive limits 3–17%
Lethal dose or concentration (LD, LC):
500 ppm (rat, 4 h)
313 ppm (mouse, 4 h)
425 ppm (rat, 4 h) [3]
260 ppm (rabbit, 4 h)
575 ppm (guinea pig, 4 h)
636 ppm (rat, 4 h)
452 ppm (human, 1 h) [3]
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
TWA 2 ppm C 10 ppm [15-minute] [skin] [1]
REL (Recommended)
Ca TWA 1 ppm C 10 ppm [15-minute] [skin] [1]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
85 ppm [1]
Safety data sheet (SDS) ICSC 0092
Related compounds
Related nitriles
Related compounds
acrylic acid
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
Yes check.svgY  verify  (what is  Yes check.svgYX mark.svgN ?)

Acrylonitrile is an organic compound with the formula CH2CHCN. It is a colorless volatile liquid although commercial samples can be yellow due to impurities. It has a pungent odor of garlic or onions. [4] In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics such as polyacrylonitrile. It is reactive and toxic at low doses. [5] Acrylonitrile was first synthesized by the French chemist Charles Moureu (1863–1929) in 1893. [6]



Acrylonitrile is not naturally formed on Earth. It has been detected at the sub-ppm level at industrial sites. It persists in the air for up to a week. It decomposes by reacting with oxygen and hydroxyl radical to form formyl cyanide and formaldehyde. [7] Acrylonitrile is harmful to aquatic life. [8]

Acrylonitrile has been detected in the atmosphere of Titan, a moon of Saturn. [9] [10] [11] Computer simulations suggest that on Titan conditions exist such that the compound could form structures similar to cell membranes and vesicles on Earth, called azotosomes. [9] [10]


Acrylonitrile is produced by catalytic ammoxidation of propylene, also known as the SOHIO process. In 2002, world production capacity was estimated at 5 million tonnes per year, [5] [12] rising to about 6 million tonnes by 2017. [13] Acetonitrile and hydrogen cyanide are significant byproducts that are recovered for sale. [5] In fact, the 2008–2009 acetonitrile shortage was caused by a decrease in demand for acrylonitrile. [14]

2 CH3−CH=CH2 + 2 NH3 + 3 O2 → 2 CH2=CH–C≡N + 6 H2O

In the SOHIO process, propylene, ammonia, and air (oxidizer) are passed through a fluidized bed reactor containing the catalyst at 400–510 °C and 50–200 kPag. The reactants pass through the reactor only once, before being quenched in aqueous sulfuric acid. Excess propylene, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and dinitrogen that do not dissolve are vented directly to the atmosphere, or are incinerated. The aqueous solution consists of acrylonitrile, acetonitrile, hydrocyanic acid, and ammonium sulfate (from excess ammonia). A recovery column removes bulk water, and acrylonitrile and acetonitrile are separated by distillation. Historically, one of the first successful catalysts was bismuth phosphomolybdate (Bi9PMo12O52) supported on silica as a heterogeneous catalyst. [15] Further improvements have since been made. [5]

Alternative routes

Various green chemistry routes to acrylonitrile are being explored from renewable feedstocks, such as lignocellulosic biomass, glycerol (from biodiesel production), or glutamic acid (which can itself be produced from renewable feedstocks). The lignocellulosic route involves fermentation of the biomass to propionic acid and 3-hydroxypropionic acid, which are then converted to acrylonitrile by dehydration and ammoxidation. [16] [13] The glycerol route begins with its dehydration to acrolein, which undergoes ammoxidation to give acrylonitrile. [17] The glutamic acid route employs oxidative decarboxylation to 3-cyanopropanoic acid, followed by a decarbonylation-elimination to acrylonitrile. [18] Of these, the glycerol route is broadly considered to be the most viable, although none of these green methods are commercially competitive. [16] [17]


Acrylonitrile is used principally as a monomer to prepare polyacrylonitrile, a homopolymer, or several important copolymers, such as styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA), and other synthetic rubbers such as acrylonitrile butadiene (NBR). Hydrodimerization of acrylonitrile [19] [20] affords adiponitrile, used in the synthesis of certain nylons:

2 CH2=CHCN + 2 e + 2 H+ → NCCH2CH2CH2CH2CN

Acrylonitrile is also a precursor in the industrial manufacture of acrylamide and acrylic acid. [5]

Synthesis of specialty chemicals

The reaction of acrylonitrile with protic nucleophiles is a common route to a variety of specialty chemicals. The process is called cyanoethylation:

Typical protic nucleophiles are alcohols, thiols, and especially amines. [21]

Acrylonitrile and derivatives, such as 2-chloroacrylonitrile, are dienophiles in Diels–Alder reactions.

Health effects

Acrylonitrile is highly flammable and toxic at low doses. It undergoes explosive polymerization. The burning material releases fumes of hydrogen cyanide and oxides of nitrogen. It is classified as a Class 2B carcinogen (possibly carcinogenic) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), [22] and workers exposed to high levels of airborne acrylonitrile are diagnosed more frequently with lung cancer than the rest of the population. [23] Acrylonitrile is one of seven toxicants in cigarette smoke that are most associated with respiratory tract carcinogenesis. [24] The mechanism of action of acrylonitrile appears to involve oxidative stress and oxidative DNA damage. [25] Acrylonitrile increases cancer in high dose tests in male and female rats and mice [26] and induces apoptosis in human umbilical cord mesenchymal stem cells. [27]

It evaporates quickly at room temperature (20 °C) to reach dangerous concentrations; skin irritation, respiratory irritation, and eye irritation are the immediate effects of this exposure. [8] Pathways of exposure for humans include emissions, auto exhaust, and cigarette smoke that can expose the human subject directly if they inhale or smoke. Routes of exposure include inhalation, oral, and to a certain extent dermal uptake (tested with volunteer humans and in rat studies). [28] Repeated exposure causes skin sensitization and may cause central nervous system and liver damage. [8]

There are two main excretion processes of acrylonitrile. The primary method is excretion in urine when acrylonitrile is metabolized by being directly conjugated to glutathione. The other method is when acrylonitrile is enzymatically converted into 2-cyanoethylene oxide which will produce cyanide end products that ultimately form thiocyanate, which is excreted via urine. [28] Exposure can thus be detected via blood draws and urine sampling. [22]

Related Research Articles

Acetonitrile, often abbreviated MeCN, is the chemical compound with the formula CH
. This colourless liquid is the simplest organic nitrile. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of acrylonitrile manufacture. It is used as a polar aprotic solvent in organic synthesis and in the purification of butadiene. The N≡C−C skeleton is linear with a short C≡N distance of 1.16 Å.

Styrene Chemical compound

Styrene is an organic compound with the chemical formula C6H5CH=CH2. This derivative of benzene is a colorless oily liquid, although aged samples can appear yellowish. The compound evaporates easily and has a sweet smell, although high concentrations have a less pleasant odor. Styrene is the precursor to polystyrene and several copolymers. Approximately 25 million tonnes of styrene were produced in 2010, increasing to around 35 million tonnes by 2018.

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene Thermoplastic polymer

Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) (chemical formula (C8H8)x·​(C4H6)y·​(C3H3N)z) is a common thermoplastic polymer. Its glass transition temperature is approximately 105 °C (221 °F). ABS is amorphous and therefore has no true melting point.

Ethylene oxide Chemical compound

Ethylene oxide is an organic compound with the formula C
. It is a cyclic ether and the simplest epoxide: a three-membered ring consisting of one oxygen atom and two carbon atoms. Ethylene oxide is a colorless and flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor. Because it is a strained ring, ethylene oxide easily participates in a number of addition reactions that result in ring-opening. Ethylene oxide is isomeric with acetaldehyde and with vinyl alcohol. Ethylene oxide is industrially produced by oxidation of ethylene in the presence of silver catalyst.

1,3-Butadiene is the organic compound with the formula (CH2=CH)2. It is a colorless gas that is easily condensed to a liquid. It is important industrially as a precursor to synthetic rubber. The molecule can be viewed as the union of two vinyl groups. It is the simplest conjugated diene.

Propylene oxide Chemical compound

Propylene oxide is an acutely toxic and carcinogenic organic compound with the molecular formula CH3CHCH2O. This colorless volatile liquid with an odor similar to ether, is produced on a large scale industrially. Its major application is its use for the production of polyether polyols for use in making polyurethane plastics. It is a chiral epoxide, although it is commonly used as a racemic mixture.

A nitrile is any organic compound that has a −C≡N functional group. The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, including methyl cyanoacrylate, used in super glue, and nitrile rubber, a nitrile-containing polymer used in latex-free laboratory and medical gloves. Nitrile rubber is also widely used as automotive and other seals since it is resistant to fuels and oils. Organic compounds containing multiple nitrile groups are known as cyanocarbons.

Propene, also known as propylene, is an unsaturated organic compound with the chemical formula . It has one double bond, and is the second simplest member of the alkene class of hydrocarbons. It is a colorless gas with a faint petroleum-like odor.

Acrylic acid Chemical compound

Acrylic acid (IUPAC: propenoic acid) is an organic compound with the formula CH2=CHCOOH. It is the simplest unsaturated carboxylic acid, consisting of a vinyl group connected directly to a carboxylic acid terminus. This colorless liquid has a characteristic acrid or tart smell. It is miscible with water, alcohols, ethers, and chloroform. More than a million tons are produced annually.

Acrolein Chemical compound

Acrolein is the simplest unsaturated aldehyde. It is a colorless liquid with a piercing, acrid smell. The smell of burnt fat is caused by glycerol in the burning fat breaking down into acrolein. It is produced industrially from propylene and mainly used as a biocide and a building block to other chemical compounds, such as the amino acid methionine.

Ethylbenzene Hydrocarbon compound; precursor to styrene and polystyrene

Ethylbenzene is an organic compound with the formula C6H5CH2CH3. It is a highly flammable, colorless liquid with an odor similar to that of gasoline. This monocyclic aromatic hydrocarbon is important in the petrochemical industry as an intermediate in the production of styrene, the precursor to polystyrene, a common plastic material. In 2012, more than 99% of ethylbenzene produced was consumed in the production of styrene.

Methyl methacrylate Chemical compound

Methyl methacrylate (MMA) is an organic compound with the formula CH2=C(CH3)COOCH3. This colorless liquid, the methyl ester of methacrylic acid (MAA), is a monomer produced on a large scale for the production of poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA).

Succinonitrile Chemical compound

Succinonitrile, also butanedinitrile, is a nitrile, with the formula of C2H4(CN)2. It is a colorless waxy solid which melts at 58 °C.

Adiponitrile Chemical compound

Adiponitrile is an organic compound with the chemical formula (CH2)4(CN)2. This dinitrile, viscous, colourless liquid is an important precursor to the polymer nylon 66. In 2005, about one million tonnes of Adiponitrile were produced.

Electrosynthesis in chemistry is the synthesis of chemical compounds in an electrochemical cell. Compared to ordinary redox reaction, electrosynthesis sometimes offers improved selectivity and yields. Electrosynthesis is actively studied as a science and also has industrial applications. Electrooxidation has potential for wastewater treatment as well.

Ethyl acrylate Chemical compound

Ethyl acrylate is an organic compound with the formula CH2CHCO2CH2CH3. It is the ethyl ester of acrylic acid. It is a colourless liquid with a characteristic acrid odor. It is mainly produced for paints, textiles, and non-woven fibers. It is also a reagent in the synthesis of various pharmaceutical intermediates.


In chemistry, ammoxidation is a process for the production of nitriles using ammonia and oxygen. It is sometimes called the SOHIO process, acknowledging that ammoxidation was developed at Standard Oil of Ohio. The usual substrates are alkenes. Several million tons of acrylonitrile are produced in this way annually:

Methacrylonitrile, MeAN in short, is a chemical compound that is an unsaturated aliphatic nitrile, widely used in the preparation of homopolymers, copolymers, elastomers, and plastics and as a chemical intermediate in the preparation of acids, amides, amines, esters, and other nitriles. MeAN is also used as a replacement for acrylonitrile in the manufacture of an acrylonitrile/butadiene/styrene-like polymer. It is a clear and colorless liquid, that has a bitter almond smell.

Propionitrile, also known as ethyl cyanide and propanenitrile, is an organic compound with the formula CH3CH2CN. It is a simple aliphatic nitrile. The compound is a colourless, water-soluble liquid. It is used as a solvent and a precursor to other organic compounds.

Charles Moureu

François Charles Léon Moureu was a French organic chemist and pharmacist. In 1902 Charles Moureu published Notions fondamentales de chimie organique, translated into English as Fundamental principles of organic chemistry (1921).


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