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Formic acid has been known to humanity for many centuries. As early as the fifteenth century, people were aware that ant hills gave off an acidic vapor. In 1671 an English naturalist named John Ray collected and distilled a large number of dead ants the product of this became known as formic acid. Hydrocyanic acid was used as the starting material for the synthesis of formic acid, then in 1855 Marcellin Berthelot, developed a synthesis from carbon monoxide that is similar to what is used today.
Formic acid, systematically named Methanoic Acid, is the simplest carboxylic acid. Its chemical formula is HCOOH. It plays an important part in chemical synthesis and occurs naturally, most notably in ants. But it is also found in the stings and bites of many insects of the Hymenoptera order. Formic acid is present and partially responsible for the burning feeling from contact with a sting or bite, this is many insects chemical defense mechanism. The word “formic” comes from the Latin word for ant, formica. Industrially, formic acid is produced from methanol and it is a byproduct from the production of acetic acid.
Formic acid is a colorless liquid having a pungent, penetrating odor at room temperature. It is somewhat soluble in hydrocarbons and it is miscible with water and most polar organic solvents. Gaseous formic acid does not obey the ideal gas law. Solid formic acid, which can exist in either of two polymorphs, consists of an effectively endless network of hydrogen-bonded formic acid molecules.
Formic acid (HCOOH) is the simplest of the carboxylic acids. It is considered a weak acid because its rate of reaction is slower, and it has a low conductivity. A weak acid is one that ionizes partially in a solution. It gives off only few of its hydrogen atoms into the solution.
Formic Acid Uses and Applications in the United States
Formic acid may not be a household name to many, but it’s become a common chemical in the industrial market. It has become a great chemical in industry, formic acid is used for a variety of purposes in many countries around the world.
A major use of formic acid is utilizing it as a preservative and an antibacterial agent in livestock feed. In Europe, it is applied on silage and fresh hay, to promote the fermentation of lactic acid. It also allows fermentation to occur quickly, and at a lower temperature reducing the loss of nutritional value. Formic acid blocks certain decay processes and causes the feed to retain its nutritive value longer. In the winter it is utilized frequently to preserve feed for the cattle.
Formic acid is key to the leather industry, where it is used in the tanning process. Tanning, which requires acidic conditions, involves treating hides with sulfuric and formic acids in a process called ‘pickling’. This opens the collagen fibers in the hide, allowing the tanning chemicals to infiltrate the hide and react with the collagen, making the hides more flexible and workable.
Formic acid is also significantly used in place of mineral acids for various cleaning products, like limescale remover and toilet bowl cleaner. Formic acid is used in household and industrial cleaning applications to remove mineral scale such as calcium and iron. It descales evaporators, heat exchangers and other equipment that has scale build-up. For industrial cleaning it is used to descale and clean equipment and tanks like sugar mills. For households it is used to descale and clean bathroom surfaces as well as lime scale removal in toilet bowl cleaners.
There are many advantages in using formic acid for cleaning. It is easier and more effective with descaling calcium salts from calcium carbonate buildup. Formic acid can dissolve the buildup effectively. The calcium salt of formic acid is about ten times more soluble than that of phosphoric acid. It also has an excellent environmental compatibility. Formic acid does not release phosphate or nitrate by-products that pose a potential risk of eutrophication. Formic acid degradation consumes the least amount of oxygen among organic acids.
Formic acid when used correctly is an effective miticide against tracheal mite, varroa destructor mite, and the varroa jacobsoni mite. Research studies from Canada and Germany conclude that Varroa mites are the main cause of colony loss and severely reduced colony strength in Northern climates during the overwintering phase.
Formic acid has also been reported as an effective treatment for warts. The use of 85% formic acid on warts is safe and effective with minimal side-effects. Other benefits include being painless and there is minimal scaring. The formic acid works by dehydrating and finally destroying the wart-infected tissue.
Formic acid is often used as a component of mobile phase in reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography analysis and separation techniques for the separation of hydrophobic macromolecules. Especially when paired with mass spectrometry detection, formic acid offers several advantages over more traditionally used phosphoric acid.
Formic Acid for Raw Rubber
Formic acid is the most preferred and commonly used coagulant for the manufacture of latex crepe rubber it is cost-efficient and guarantees a high-quality natural rubber product consistently. After the addition of the bleaching agent, an acid (formic acid) is added to coagulate the rubber particles in the latex. The coagulation of rubber particles with the acid is due to reduction in the pH value of latex. The strength of the formic acid should be diluted to a 1% solution.
Formic Acid for Artificial Flavorings/ Perfumes
Some formate esters are artificial flavorings or perfumes. Esters are formed by the process of dehydration synthesis using an alcohol with an acid. Many esters have the characteristic property of a pleasant odor. Which is why they are often used as artificial flavors and perfumes.
Formic Acid for Skin
Formic acid is a colorless liquid. It is used in the formulation of cosmetics and personal care products used for the face, neck, and other areas. It is an ingredient in foot powders and sprays. Formic acid is also used in hair care products and in the treatment of warts. It works well to dry out the warts from the roots and helps the body reject warts. Formic acid is used as a preservative in many cosmetics and personal care products it also controls the pH levels.
In the pharmaceutical industry acid is used as local stimulation drugs, foaming paste, and astringent. It is also used in vitamin B1, cocoa alkali borneol, caffeine, and so on. Formic acid is used as an important raw material and it is used in a new process of synthesis of insulin. Formic acid is effective as a softening and anti-itching ingredient in body oils.
Industrial Uses of Formic Acid
Formic acid is used in several industries such as the pharmaceutical (e.g... caffeine, analgin, aminopyrine, vitamin B1), Pesticide (e.g... triazolone, disinfest), Chemical (e.g.. methane amide, DMF, age resistor), Leather (tanning), Textile (natural rubber), Rubber (coagulation), Steel (e.g.. acid cleaning of steel production), Paper (pulp manufacturing), Food (disinfectant), and Poultry industries (silage). Formic acid is commonly used in the oil and gas industry as a corrosion inhibitor in the hydraulic fracturing process.
Formic Acid Structure
Formic acid is unique among the carboxylic acids. Formic acid and alkenes readily react to form formate esters. The chemical formula of formic acid is HCOOH or HCO2H. Its molecular formula is CH2O2 and its molar mass is 46.02 g/mol. It consists of a single carboxylic acid group (COOH) attached to a hydrogen atom.
Formic Acid Safety, Hazards and Storage
Formic acid has a low toxicity, it is metabolized and eliminated by the body. But it does have specific toxic effects people should be aware of. The danger of formic acid depends on its concentration. At higher concentrations formic acid is corrosive, has a strong smell, and produces dangerous fumes. The principle danger from formic acid is from skin or eye contact with liquid formic acid or with the concentrated vapors. These exposure routes can cause chemical burns. Eye exposure can result in permanent eye damage. Inhaled vapors can cause irritation or burns in the respiratory tract.
According to the FDA, formic acid may be safely used in accordance to multiple conditions listed on their page, if you would like to read them further click here.
Exposure to formic acid can pose a risk to your health. This chemical is dangerous when it encounters either the skin or eyes. In any instance of formic acid exposure, it is important to seek help from a medical professional right away to help prevent damaging health effects.
Breathing in formic acid can cause irritation to the mucous membranes. Contact with the skin/eyes can cause blisters or burns. Chronic absorption of formic acid may cause damage to the kidneys. Chronic skin contact may cause sensitization dermatitis.
Formic acid can cause severe skin burns and eye damage (danger skin corrosion/ irritation). For more information about formic acid safety and hazards, it is listed on PubChem.
When handling formic acid use spark-proof tools and explosion proof equipment. Keep it away from heat, sparks and flames. Only use formic acid in a chemical fume hood. When storing formic acid keep it away from sources of ignition. Store it in a tightly closed container. Make sure it is kept in a dry area, do not store it in metal containers. If the container is sealed and kept in room temperature, concentrated formic acid will slowly decompose to carbon monoxide resulting in increased pressure if the container is unvented. It is important to keep this in mind and choose storing your formic acid accordingly. It is a good idea to store formic acid in a container with vented closures, and vent periodically to prevent bursting.
Formic Acid Uses and Manufacturing on PubChem
EPA safer chemical functional use states that formic acid has been verified to be of low concern. Its agrochemical category is “insecticide”. Formic acid is a flavoring agent and it is used as a preservative in food. It is classified as corrosive, and flammable- 2nd degree.