What is Formic Acid?
Formic acid, systematically called methanoic acid, is the simplest carboxylic acid and has the chemical formula HCOOH. It is an important intermediate in chemical synthesis and most importantly occurs naturally in some ants. The word “formic” comes from the Latin word for ant, formica, which refers to the early isolation of ant bodies by distillation. Esters, salts and anion derived from formic acid are called formate. Industrially, formic acid is produced from methanol.
Formic acid is miscible with water and most polar organic solvents and somewhat soluble in hydrocarbons. In hydrocarbons and in the vapor phase, it consists of hydrogen-bonded dimers rather than individual molecules. Due to its hydrogen bonding tendency, gaseous formic acid does not obey the ideal gas law. Solid formic acid, which can be found in either of the two polymorphs, consists of an effectively endless network of hydrogen-bonded formic acid molecules. Formic acid forms a low boiling azeotrope with water (% 22.4). Liquid formic acid tends to overcool.
How is Formic Acid produced?
It is possible to produce formic acid by quite different methods.
First, formic acid can be produced from methyl and formamide.
When methanol and carbon monoxide are combined in the presence of a strong base, the result is methyl formate, according to the chemical equation:
CH3OH + CO → HCO2CH3
In industry, this reaction is carried out in the liquid phase at high pressure. Typical reaction conditions are 80 °C and 40 atm. The most commonly used base is sodium methoxide. Hydrolysis of methyl formate produces formic acid:
HCO2CH3 + H2O → HCOOH + CH3OH
Effective hydrolysis of methyl formate requires a lot of water. Some routes proceed indirectly, by first treating methyl formate with ammonia to give formamide, which is then hydrolyzed with sulfuric acid:
HCO2CH3 + NH3 → HC(O)NH2 + CH3OH
2 HC(O)NH2 + 2H2O + H2SO4 → 2HCO2H + (NH4)2SO4
A disadvantage of this method is the need to dispose of the ammonium sulfate by-product. This problem has prompted some manufacturers to develop energy-efficient methods for separating formic acid directly from the excess water used in hydrolysis.
Significant amounts of formic acid are produced as a by-product in the production of other chemicals.
Formic acid can also be obtained by aqueous catalytic partial oxidation of wet biomass by the OxFA process. A Keggin-type polyoxometalate (H5PV2Mo10O40) is used as the homogeneous catalyst to convert sugar, wood, waste paper or cyanobacteria into formic acid and CO2 as the only by-product. Formic acid yields of up to % 53 can be achieved.
In the laboratory, formic acid can be obtained by heating oxalic acid in glycerol and extraction by steam distillation.
Formic acid can be obtained by electrochemical reduction of CO.
Because of the high amount of formic acid in ants, formic acid can be produced through biosynthesis.
How does Formic Acid look?
A colorless liquid with a pungent, penetrating odor
What is the molecular formula of Formic Acid?
Molecular Formula: HCOOH
In which sectors is Formic Acid used?
- In farm animal feeds
- In leather and textile production sectors
- In the rubber industry
- In cleaning products
- in the beekeeping industry
- In the fuel industry
- In the production of isobutanol
What are the usage areas (processes) of Formic Acid?
- The main use of formic acid is as a preservative and antibacterial in livestock feed. Formic acid stops certain rotting processes and allows the feed to retain its nutritional value for a longer period of time. Therefore, it is widely used to protect the winter feed of cattle. In the poultry industry it is also added to the feed to kill some bacteria.
- Thanks to its acidic structure, formic acid is widely used in leather production and textile dyeing and polishing processes.
- It is used as a coagulant in rubber production.
- It is used in various cleaning products such as formic acid descaler and toilet bowl cleaner.
- Beekeepers use formic acid as a tick killer against tracheal mite (Acarapis woodi) and Varroa destroyer mite and Varroa jacobsoni mite.
- Formic acid application becomes an effective treatment for warts.
- Formic acid can be used directly in formic acid fuel cells and indirectly in hydrogen fuel cells.
- Formic acid can be used as an intermediary to produce isobutanol using microbes from CO2.
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