Published February 1967
Formaldehyde has long been recognized for its useful copolymers with phenol, urea, and melamine. The extreme reactivity of the formaldehyde carbonyl group and the nature of the molecule as a basic building block has made possible a wide variety of industrially important chemical compounds.
Because of the reactivity of formaldehyde, its handling and separation, as well as its direct preparation from hydrocarbons, are difficult. These factors, in the past, have exerted considerable influence on the pattern of formaldehyde growth. Since formaldehyde is usually transported in aqueous solutions of 50% or lower formaldehyde concentration, producers have tended to locate close to markets and to ship the methanol raw material, which has smaller volume. Transportation of the highly concentrated, easily handled, and interconvertible polymers of formaldehyde has also been relatively small. In contrast to those of many petrochemicals, basic processes for the production of formaldehyde from methanol have changed very little over several decades. The direct synthesis of formaldehyde from hydrocarbons has not yet resulted in cost reductions that could alter the above pattern of development.
A principal objective of this report is to examine capital and production costs for existing formaldehyde processes from methanol and, so far as possible, to assess the status of current research and patents relative to a more direct or appreciably lower cost route to formaldehyde. A secondary objective is to convey some understanding of the cost and use of paraformaldehyde and trioxane as alternative sources of formaldehyde--particularly with respect to high purity formaldehyde gas required by the developing high molecular weight polymer industry. Processes for making these polymers are not included.
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