Production of formaldehyde


Formaldehyde is a simple, naturally occurring substance made up of hydrogen, oxygen and carbon, with the formula CH2O. It is also naturally found in all organic forms of life: in trees, fruits, vegetables, fish, plants, animals and humans. 

Despite its presence in all organic life forms, formaldehyde does not accumulate in the environment. In the environment, it is in gaseous form, and is very quickly broken down by sunlight: it is demonstrated to have a half-life of an hour, which means that over the course of one hour, the amount of formaldehyde present in the environment decreases by half. In soil and water, it is also broken down very quickly but this time by bacteria rather than sunlight. 

Within our bodies, formaldehyde is essential in the development of DNA proteins and is a normal component of human blood. Once again however, it does not accumulate and is quickly broken down by metabolic process: formaldehyde in the body has a half-life of about one minute. Because the body is designed for dealing with formaldehyde, it is well-equipped to handle additional formaldehyde intake from external sources. Most of it is exhaled from the body in our breath and the rest broken down by normal metabolic processes. 

The EU Formaldehyde Market

The European Union (EU) is the second largest producer area of formaldehyde after Asia, producing over 4 million tons of formaldehyde (100% concentration) each year which accounts for about 30% of the global production*. Annual sales of formaldehyde-based chemicals in the EU are roughly €9.5 billion a year and formaldehyde production is present in 22 of the 27 EU Member States. Germany is the largest formaldehyde producer in Europe, followed by Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK. 

As formaldehyde is an extremely versatile building block, it is used in a wide variety of applications and especially plays an important role in the construction, automotive and furniture industries. Because formaldehyde has excellent adhesive and binding properties, the majority of formaldehyde produced in the EU is made into resins. These resins are essential to products like wood panels and particleboard which are then used in construction and furniture making. 

*Statistics are from CEH Marketing Research Report, SRI and refer to 100% formaldehyde. 
*Formacare estimation of EU/UK/NO production capacity in 2022 (in thousands of metric tons) 

Facts about Formaldehyde

Though first discovered by A. M. Butlerov in 1859, it wasn’t formally identified until 1868 at the University of Berlin by Professor A.W. von Hoffman. 

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound; composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules, its chemical formula is CH2O. 

When found naturally, formaldehyde is a colourless gas; commercially however, it is distributed in liquid form known as formalin (with formaldehyde concentration usually between 55% & 97%). 

Scrap wood can be broken down into wood chips and used to make furniture thanks to formaldehyde-based glues. 

Formaldehyde’s intrinsic anti-bacterial and preservative properties make it ideal for use in some vaccines to deactivate viruses. 

Formaldehyde is present in all organic life forms but it does not accumulate; it is broken down by sunlight in the air, and by bacteria in soil and water. 

Recent scientific discoveries suggest that formaldehyde was one of the first substances in the universe. 

The first plastic used on an industrial scale was a phenolic resin, a combination of phenol and formaldehyde.