A brief description of Methyl formate

- Jan 17, 2019 -

Methyl formate, also called methyl methanoate, is the methyl ester of formic acid. The simplest example of an ester, it is a colorless liquid with an ethereal odour, high vapor pressure, and low surface tension. It is a precursor to many other compounds of commercial interest.

In the laboratory, methyl formate can be produced by the condensation reaction of methanol and formic acid, as follows:

  • HCO2H + CH3OH → HCO2CH3 + H2O

Industrial methyl formate, however, is usually produced by the combination of methanol and carbon monoxide (carbonylation) in the presence of a strong base, such as sodium methoxide:

  • CH3OH + CO → HCO2CH3

This process, practiced commercially by BASF among other companies gives 96% selectivity toward methyl formate. The catalystfor this process is sensitive to water, which can be present in the carbon monoxide feedstock, which is commonly derived from synthesis gas. Very dry carbon monoxide is, therefore, essential.

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