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When you burn methane, formaldehyde is produced as an intermediate product of combustion. The formaldehyde is chemically known as methanal and it formula is CH2O. There are other forms of formaldehyde too; cyclic trimer trioxane and polymer paraformaldehyde. The aqueous solution of formaldehyde is called formalin. The commercially available formalin has 10 to 12% methanol with a few impurities like aluminum and copper. Almost 21 million tonnes of formaldehyde is produced annually all around the world.
Synthesis of Formaldehyde
Formaldehyde is produced by catalytic oxidation of methanol. A mixture of molybdenum and iron or silver is used as a catalyst in such a reaction. But a more commonly used process is FORMAX. In this process, methanol and oxygen react at temperatures more than 250ºC in presence of vanadium to produce formaldehyde. The following chemical equation represents the reaction that takes place.
2CH3OH + O2---> 2CH2O + 2H20 .
But if you are using a silver based catalyst, then you have to operate at a temperature more than 650ºC. Although formaldehyde is the intermediate product of oxidation of methane, it is not industrially viable, because formaldehyde is more easily oxidized than methane. Formaldehyde will get burnt in the same process.
Formaldehyde has many uses and it is used in wide range of products. Following are some common uses of formaldehyde.
As a Disinfectant
Formaldehyde is considered as a highly effective disinfectant. It completely negates the activities of bacteria, fungi, yeast and molds. But it has extreme odor and causes high irritation of nose and eyes, this is the reason of its limited use. But recently, many companies have been able to produce a processed formaldehyde which is not as irritable and is yet an effective disinfectant as before.
While synthesizing a photograph, formaldehyde is used in final wash stage for a color negative film. It is also used in pre-bleach stage. This reduces the need to use formaldehyde in final stage.
Embalming is a process which temporarily stalls the decomposition of the human remains. Formaldehyde is one of the embalming agents. It also fixes those tissues that that are responsible for the firmness of the muscles in an embalmed body.
Formaldehyde along with Sulfuric acid is used to create Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). In layman's language, formaldehyde is used to create the drug extacy.This drug is considered as a narcotic and its possession is criminalized in many countries. However, it is also used in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and anxiety associated with cancer.
Another interesting use of formaldehyde is that when you immerse the lungs of an embalmed body into its aqueous solution, if the lungs are floating then a mortician concludes that the deceased was breathing while he passed away. If they do not float then the person was not breathing. You may also like to read more on formaldehyde allergy symptoms.
The above extract was an effort to illustrate some of the formaldehyde uses. I hope that the reader finds it informative and solves his purpose of understanding of this chemical...
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