Published January 1974
Formaldehyde is produced commercially by the oxidation or dehydrogenation of methanol:
Fifty percent of world methanol production is used for this purpose and much or most of this methanol is obtained by the steam reforming of natural gas followed by methanol synthesis from the resulting carbon monoxide and hydrogen:
Researchers have, for several decades, been intrigued with the possibility of making formaldehyde from methane by direct oxidation:
A process based on this reaction could conceivably require a much lower capital investment and have a lower consumption of labor, utilities, and raw materials than does the existing two-stage synthesis via methanol.
Efforts to develop a commercially practical process for formaldehyde direct from methane have, to date, generally been stymied by low selectivities and yields. Since formaldehyde is more easily oxidized than methane, it becomes difficult to halt the reactions before the formaldehyde has been largely oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. However, it is possible that someone may discover the right combination of catalyst, conditions, and equipment to realize economically adequate formaldehyde yields, Certainly, the patent and technical literature published over the last several years indicates a continuing interest in this possibility.
This paper attempts to estimate the approximate selectivities and yields that would be required for a commercially feasible process to make formaldehyde direct from natural gas. Following this, recently publishedinformation and patents are reviewed to ascertain the selectivities and yields that are now being realized.