Formaldehyde in green chemistry

1.0 Introduction

Formaldehyde is the first member of the aldehyde household ( CH2O ) and is the most of import aldehyde in the environment.3 It is a of course happening chemical and a byproduct of most beings, including human, industrial and natural procedures. Formaldehyde signifiers from the uncomplete burning of carbon-containing stuffs ; fume from wood fires, in car fumes, and in baccy fume. Atmospheric methanal is formed by the action of sunshine and O on methane and other hydrocarbons.2 Due to its simple nature, metabolic processes break formaldehyde into C dioxide. Formaldehyde does non roll up in the environment or within workss, animate beings or people, as it rapidly breaks down in the organic structure and the atmosphere.1 It has a acrid smell and is an irritant and is an thorn to eyes, nose and pharynx, even at low concentrations. The recommended odour sensing bound is between 0.05 – 1ppm.3

Formaldehyde is an of import industrial chemical and is employed in the industry of many industrial merchandises and consumer articles. More than 50 subdivisions of industry now use methanals, chiefly in the signifier of aqueous solutions and formaldehyde-containing rosins. In 1995, the demand for methanal in the three major markets – Northern America, Western Europe, Japan – was 4.1?106 t/a.2

History of Formaldehyde

Research in the early 1800s by Liebig discovered the chemical composing and nature of assorted aldehydes excepting methanal due to the easiness with which methyl alcohol was oxidized to formic acid and farther synthesized to carbon dioxide and water.5

In 1859, Alexandra Mikhailovich Butlerov unwittingly discovered methanal as a consequence of his proposed synthesis of methylene ethanediol [ CH2 ( OH ) 2 ] . During his research lab experiment, Butlerov observed the typical smell of the formaldehyde solution while hydrolyzing methylene ethanoate, which decomposed to organize methanal and H2O. 5

He besides produced methanals in other signifiers which led him to print a elaborate study of formaldehyde solution, its gas and polymer. He gave extra grounds of its construction and described the chemical reactions together with the creative activity of hexamethylenetetramine, [ ( CH2 ) 6N4 ] on responding with ammonium hydroxide, ( NH3 ) .

The chief manner by which methanal is still being produced boulder clay day of the month was discovered by A.W. Hofmann but with other accelerators. In 1868, Hofmann made a consecutive discovery by go throughing a mixture of methyl alcohol and air over a het Pt spiral. This procedure is presently industrialised by usage of a metal accelerator. Over two decennaries subsequently, the isolation and purification of methanal was achieved by Friedrich Von Stradonitz ( 1892 ) . 4

1882 marked two important betterments in formaldehyde research. Kekule so described the readying of pure methanal and Tollens discovered a method of modulating the methanol vapor: air ratio, thereby impacting the output of the reaction.6

The coiling Pt accelerator was replaced with more efficient Cu gauze in 1886 by Leow. Commercial industry of methanal was initiated by a German house, Mercklin and Losekann in 1889 with the first usage of Ag accelerator patented by Hugo Blank, another German company in 1910. 6

Industrial development continued from 1900 to 1905, when works sizes, flow rates, outputs, and efficiency were increased. In 1905, Badische Anilin & A ; Soda-Fabrik ( BASF ) started to fabricate formaldehyde by a uninterrupted procedure using a crystalline Ag accelerator. Formaldehyde end product was 30 kg/d in the signifier of an aqueous 30 wt % solution. The methyl alcohol required for the production of methanal was ab initio obtained from the lumber industry by carbonising wood. The development of the hard-hitting synthesis of methyl alcohol by BASF in 1925 allowed the production of methanal on a true industrial graduated table. 6

Importance of Formaldehyde

For several decennaries, methanal has been used systematically in a broad scope of merchandises, runing from personal hygiene, to medicate, to edifice merchandises and much more. Many different rosins are created from methanal, which are in bend used to make other stuffs holding different belongingss. Formaldehyde derived functions are used as preservatives in personal hygiene merchandises because they kill bacteriums or they are used to do other merchandises more effectual in footings of frothing action such as soaps and detergents. Its various chemical science and alone belongingss have created applications for usage of methanal in all sorts of every twenty-four hours merchandises such as plastics, rug, vesture, rosins, gums, medical specialties, vaccinums and the movie used in x-rays.1

One of the first benefits you derive from formaldehyde chemical science is as a kid, when you received your inoculations for childhood diseases. These include diphtheria, infantile paralysis and grippe, to call a few. Since it besides acts as a preservative, formaldehyde plays a critical function in our medical schools, continuing corpses used in learning human anatomy. It has been used for tissue and organ saving for more than a century and has greatly assisted the progress of biological science.1

Importance of Green Procedures

The construct of Green Chemistry helps cut down or extinguish the usage or coevals of risky substances in the design, industry and application of chemical merchandises. This helps in covering with the of all time turning addition to protect the environment and the construct of sustainability.

A batch of accent is based on the research and development stage of each chemical or merchandise, to restrict issues impacting human wellness and environmental pollution. For every chemical or given merchandise, the undermentioned guidelines should regulate the pick of route:7

  • Choice of feed-stock ( costs are relevant of class, but besides entire resources, energy, waste, etc. in the industry of the given feed-stock are of import factors )
  • Choice of reaction way ( understate energy demands by usage of selective accelerators )
  • Choice of accelerator ( efficiency, separation from merchandise, recycling of accelerator )
  • Down-stream processing/unit operations ( understating the figure of phases necessary to obtain the merchandise in the province desired by the client )
  • Understating non merely the sum pollutants, but besides the volume of waste watercourses ( effluent/ off-gases and solid waste )
  • Recycling of subsidiary, side- , and intermediate merchandises into the procedure.

    This study focuses on physical and chemical belongingss of methanal ( CH2O ) , its production procedures and development through clip as it tries to conform to some of the rules of green chemical science.


Formaldehyde is more complicated than many simple C compounds because it adopts different signifiers. Formaldehyde is a gas at room temperature, but the gas readily converts to a assortment of derived functions. These derived functions by and large behave likewise to gaseous methanal and are used in industry.4

Physical Properties

  1. Monomeric methanal: This signifier of formaldehyde [ 50-00-0 ] , CH2O is a colorless gas that has a foul, overmastering smell and is an thorn to eyes, nose, pharynx and tegument. Monomeric formaldehyde liquefies at -19°C, and solidifies at -80°C to give a white paste. The liquid and gas stages polymerise readily at low and normal temperatures up to 80°C. Pure methanal gas, on the other manus, does non polymerize between 80 – 100°C and behaves as an ideal gas. Though it is non commercially available in this signifier, it can be prepared in the research lab by the Spencer and Wilde method.6, 3

    The molecular expression of gaseous methanals in ambient air is shown below.

  2. Trioxane: 1, 3, 5- Trioxane is a stable cyclic trimer of methanal, C3H6O3. It appears as a white solid with a chloroform-like smell but does non do any signifier of annoyance to living things. The pure signifier of trioxane thaws at 61 – 62°C furuncles at 11°5C and has a brassy point of 45°C. Trioxane is used as a feedstock for some plastics, solid fuel tablet expression and as a stable beginning of methanal in laboratories.8, 3
  3. Paraformaldehyde: this is a colourless, farinaceous solid with a pungent and irritating odor. It is prepared by condensation of methylene ethanediol ( HOCH2 OH ) , and its composing is best expressed by the expression HO- ( HCHO ) Q-H. Paraformaldehyde thaws over a broad temperature scope ( 120-170C ) , which depends on the grade of polymerisation. It has similar utilizations to formaldehyde ; it is normally used as a beginning of methanal for disinfecting big areas.3
  4. Formalin: The primary market for methanal is in aqueous signifier, Formalin. It is a clear solution with the characteristic smell of methanal. Methanol is usually present, 6-15 % , to stamp down polymerization. In aqueous stage, the dominant signifier of methanal is methylene ethanediol and polyoxymethlene ethanediol for concentrated solutions.3

Chemical Reactions of Formaldehyde

  1. Decomposition: In thermic decomposition, methanal is comparatively stable. At 150C, methanal undergoes heterogenous decomposition to organize methyl alcohol and C dioxide. Above 350C, the reaction decomposes to organize C dioxide H. Catalysts such as Pt, Cu, Cr and aluminium are involved in this decomposition reaction to organize methyl alcohol, methyl formate, formic acid, C dioxide and methane.6


    HCHO >CO+ H2

  2. Polymerization: At room temperatures and really low force per unit areas, formaldehyde monomer bluess tend to polymerize piece at higher temperatures, monomeric HCHO can be maintained readily for several hours without polymerization at an equilibrium vapor force per unit area. In the aqueous stage, methanal is oxidized readily by even mild oxidising agents, such as Ag ( NH3 ) 2+ , and this belongings has been exploited in the development of several wet-chemical analytical methods for formaldehyde.3
  3. Decrease and Oxidation Reactions: Formaldehyde is readily reduced to methanol with H over a nickel accelerator and is oxidized by azotic acid, K permanganate, K bichromate or O to organize formic acid or C dioxide, and water.6, 3

    A Cannizzaro reaction occurs when formaldehyde reacts with a strong base or heated acid to organize methyl alcohol and formic acid.

    HCHOaq+ NaOH >HCO2Na+ H2

    H2+ HCHOaq >CH3OH

    In the presence of aluminium or Mg methylate, paraformaldehydes react to organize methyl formate. This is known as the Tischenko Reaction.

    2HCHO polymer>HCO2CH3

  4. Addition Chemical reactions: This is an of import reaction for the production of meagerly water-soluble methanal bisulfate.6
  5. Condensation Chemical reactions: Formaldehyde is a basal merchandise in many man-made rosin product.9 Formaldehyde condenses with urea, cyanuramide, urethanes, cyanamide, aromatic sulfa drugs and aminoalkanes, and phenols to give a broad scope of rosins ; Amino, Phenolic and Synthetic Resins.6


Over the old ages, the get downing feedstock for the commercial production of methanal is Methanol. This feedstock has been produced by responding C monoxide and H, both normally from natural gas or crude oil fractions, under high force per unit areas in the presence of a catalyst.3

Assorted patents have been published for the production of methanals but most with no commercial importance. Of all these, the process to be discussed is the decrease of C monoxide.

3.1Reduction of Carbon Oxides

This procedure has been put through a batch of research due to its low cost of natural stuffs and possible simpleness.

The end-product of this reaction is normally methanol with methanal as an intermediate in the reaction. This procedure is a two-step reaction ; portion of the reaction is a simple hydrogenation procedure and the other, by the Cannizzaro reaction of methanal with itself. The reaction with copper-alumina accelerator signifiers formaldehyde at temperatures of 282 – 487°C and force per unit areas of 117 – 410 atmospheres.10

CO+ H2 -CH2O

This decrease reaction is extremely unfavourable as a agency of formaldehyde synthesis due to the undermentioned grounds.

  • Unreasonable high force per unit areas required to obtain high outputs
  • To obtain equilibrium at a sensible rate and avoid hydrogenation, an highly active and selective accelerator would be required.

3.2Methanol and Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is industrially manufactured with methyl alcohol through three chief processes.6

  1. Partial oxidization and dehydrogenation with air in the presence of Ag crystals, steam, and extra methyl alcohol at 680 – 720°C ( BASF procedure, 97 – 98 % methanol transition ) .
  2. Partial oxidization and dehydrogenation with air in the presence of crystalline Ag or Ag gauze, steam, and extra methyl alcohol at 600 – 650°C ( 77 – 87 % primary transition of methyl alcohol ) . The transition is completed by condensing the merchandise and recycling the unreacted methyl alcohol
  3. Oxidation merely with extra air in the presence of a modified Fe – Mo – V oxide accelerator at 250 – 400°C ( 98 – 99 % methanol transition ) .

    Process III, besides known as the FORMOX procedure, a extremely exothermal procedure, occurs at temperatures of approximately 350°C.

    Though this procedure uses lower temperatures and a cheaper accelerator, the dehydrogenation procedure is still prevailing in the industry because of its lower operating costs.2, 3

    Production of formaldehyde via transition of propane, ethene, propene, butene, quintessences and butane are non economic therefore have small or no industrial relevancy. In add-on, the partial hydrogenation of CO and methane oxidization consequences in lower outputs as compared to the former processes.6

3.3Development of the Methanol Process

The initial method for the development of methanal was originated from by Hofmann, which is the passing of a mixture of air and methyl alcohol over a het Pt spiral and disintegration of this merchandise to organize aqueous methanal, formalin.10

This procedure was replaced due to troubles with detonations in finishing the merchandise recovery. Subsequent development involved the replacing of the Pt accelerator with platinised asbestos in a het tubing by Volhard. Further research by Tollens introduced the direct relationship between the methanol-air vapor ratio and the formaldehyde output ; which is still a chief rule in today ‘s industries. 10

Leow refined the two ulterior procedures by replacing the Pt accelerator with Cu gauze. This initiated the first uninterrupted procedure for formaldehyde production. The first phase of this procedure yielded approximately 15 – 20 % methanal, with an extra 30 % transition due to farther warming of the reaction gases. 10

Though non cognizant at the clip of the construct of green chemical science, research was carried out covering the readying of accelerators, reaction times and temperatures, and merchandise soaking up during the early old ages of commercial development of methanal.

This led to technological development for the usage of aAg acceleratorby O. Blank in 1910. Thorough probe with the usage of this accelerator proved that higher outputs were gettable as to that of the Cu accelerator. 10

Large graduated table fabrication welcomed betterments in the method for vapourising intoxicant, the scouring systems and in the control of the heat of reaction. The Cu gauze was observed to disintegrate or blend together with high air-methanol ratios. To undertake this issue, low ratios were introduced to assist maintain the accelerator active but this resulted in extra methyl alcohol distilled from the methanal. 10 The advancement made throughout the old ages has been achieved by the followers:

  • Efficient accelerators
  • Improved methods of control
  • Implicit technology economic systems

3.3.1Silver Catalyst Procedure

This path is the authoritative method for the industrial production of methanal. The two chief reactions governed by this procedure are dehydrogenation and partial oxidization. The dehydrogenation of methyl alcohol is a extremely endothermal, 650°C, and heat of reaction is normally obtained from the combustion of the H enclosed in the fluke gas. These procedures are normally carried out by responding methyl alcohol and air over a het stationary accelerator and scouring the off gases with H2O to obtain aqueous methanal. 6

Addition of inert substances, H2O or N, AIDSs transition by utilizing higher methyl alcohol concentrations relative to the O supplied without making the explosive stage. A few cardinal reactions take topographic point during methanol transition to formaldehyde. 3

CH3OH ?CH2O+ H2 ?H= +84kJ/mol

H2 +12O2 > H2O ?H= -243kJ/mol

CH3OH+12O2 > CH2O+ H2O ?H= -159kJ/mol

Methyl formate, methane and formic acid are of import by merchandises of the above reactions. Below are a few unwanted reactions that must be avoided by proper control of temperature and other factors to obtain high outputs.

CH2O > CO+ H2 ?H= +12.5kJ/mol

CH3OH +32O2 > CO2+ 2H2O ?H= -674kJ/mol

CH2O +O2 > CO2+ H2O ?H= -519kJ/mol

The usual procedure for the commercial production of methanal is through the uncomplete oxidization of the methyl alcohol. So far, this has been proven to be the most optimum procedure because the distilled methyl alcohol is recovered and recycled in the procedure. This consequences in higher output, higher transition and a high atom economic system. 6, 10

The BASF Process

This procedure involves the complete transition of methyl alcohol to formaldehyde ( Reaction 1 ) . This procedure indirectly applied some of the rules of green chemical science. 6, 10

  1. Few reaction stairss
  2. Recycling of stuffs within the production system to optimize merchandise recovery ensuing in a really high atom economic system.
  3. Environmental consciousness with combusted off-gases holding no inauspicious consequence on the environment
  4. The usage of H2O as a dissolver
  5. Incorporation of all stuffs in the procedure, maximising concluding merchandise with highly low weight per centum of byproducts formed
  6. Optimum surface reaction with agreement of accelerator
  7. Procedure conditions adjusted to guarantee that in retrieving of the concluding merchandise, the mixture is easy stripped without panic of an detonation.

Incomplete Conversion and Distillative Recovery of Methanol

In this procedure, methyl alcohol is partly oxidised and distilled to retrieve formaldehyde. This is the most widely used method of production. It should be noted that an economically executable procedure is non needfully a green procedure. Partial oxidization of methyl alcohol has similar features but differ with the following with regard to green chemical science. 6

  1. Two-stage reaction
  2. Lower reaction temperatures adopted in the first phase to assist stamp down the formation of unwanted byproducts.
  3. Heat of reaction generated from chilling the off gases, recycled in the system cut downing energy demands.
  4. Larger sum of methyl alcohol is recovered in this procedure with small presence of the b-products
  5. Similar off-gases as produced in the BASF procedure
  6. It besides has an alternate path that recycles the tail gas from the top of the absorber. This reduces the sum of feedstock, methyl alcohol, required in the procedure. This produces a more concentrated solution and saves up cost for the distillment procedure and the output is comparatively high ( 91-92 % ) .

Factors impacting the output in methanol oxidization procedures

  • The higher the temperature in a dehydrogenation reaction, the higher methyl alcohol is converted in the procedure system. 10,6
  • Process air controls the coveted reaction temperature and the extent to which the endothermal reactions occur. 10,6
  • Besides accelerator temperature, the inert stuffs added as stated earlier besides affect the output. 10,6

Some of the advantages of the silver accelerator procedure are listed below:11

  • Most cost effectual agencies of fabrication methanal
  • Increased formaldehyde output, methanol transition and accelerator life
  • Reduced Ag demands
  • Greater opposition to works disturbances and poisoning
  • Improved formaldehyde merchandise quality
  • Technology demonstrated worldwide

3.2.2FORMOX Procedure

The FORMOX procedure is the direct oxidization of methyl alcohol with metal oxide accelerators ( Fe, Mo or V oxide ) to bring forth methanal. Normally, the accelerator used for this procedure is a mixture of Mo and Fe in a ratio of 1.5:2.0. Due to the development of this accelerator, a few advantages have been attributed to this procedure over the silver accelerator procedures. The FORMOX procedure can be characterised as follows:

  1. Two phase oxidization reaction in gaseous province. This prevents waste that would hold been generated by usage of a solvent.6
  2. Reaction carried out under atmospheric force per unit area and at lower temperatures ( 270 – 400°C ) , consequences in an about complete reaction. 6
  3. Careful accommodations of procedure conditions help forestall the formation of unwanted byproducts. These side reactions occur at temperatures transcending 470°C. 6
  4. The transition rate for this procedure is comparatively high with a high optimisation procedure.
  5. One short-coming of this procedure is with the tail gas that has tonss of drosss and flammable constituents. The alternate path used alternatively of burning is in the add-on of fuel to the system which burns the tail gas as a addendum for energy in other start-up procedures. 6

In drumhead, the green advantages of the three commercial procedures can be summarised as follows: 7

  1. Few unit operations
  2. Waste is minimised by a extremely selective reaction
  3. Use of accelerators to optimize procedure reactions
  4. Water used as the lone dissolver
  5. Reaction carried out at atmospheric force per unit area
  6. Gas-phase reaction for the FORMOX procedure means that accelerator does non hold to be recovered from solution
  7. Recovery of energy from exothermal reactions to assist cut down environmental and economic impacts.
  8. High transition rates achieved through efficient usage of equipment, energy and stuff
  9. Use of air as oxidant alternatively of chemical oxidizing agents cut downing the toxicity and byproducts formed.

3.3Development of New Processes

Assorted research plants have been carried out for developing new formaldehyde synthesis. Unfortunately, there has been no being of commercial units of the techniques discussed below:

  1. Partial oxidization of methane to bring forth methanal which has an advantage of cut downing natural stuff costs of bring forthing the methyl alcohol from methane. The incentive for such a procedure is decrease of natural stuff costs by avoiding the capital and disbursal of bring forthing the methyl alcohol from methane. 12
  2. Production of anhydrous or extremely concentrated formaldehyde solutions via dehydrogenation of methyl alcohol. In some cases, energy costs are reduced every bit good as outflowing coevals, and losingss, supplying a more favourable status. 12
  3. Formaldehyde production from methylal ( produced from methyl alcohol and methanal ) which is in two stages. First, methylal oxidization which yields up to 70 % of the concentrated formaldehyde merchandise as compared to methanol oxidization with 55 % . After this, methylal is produced by responding methanal obtained in aqueous recycle watercourses from other units with methyl alcohol as opposed to recovery by other more dearly-won agencies, e.g. distillment and vaporization. Development of this procedure is complete. 12

Further research is still being carried out in the usage of bacteriums to bring forth methanal. This will non be discussed in this study.


Formaldehyde is one of the most of import chemicals in the universe and is contained in practically everything associated with our normal day-to-day lives. Its usage can be classified into three major groups.

  1. Resins: Resins besides known as condensates form the nucleus of the methanal industry. These are usually produced with cyanuramide, urea and phenols, every bit good as their derived functions. The chief utilizations of methanal rosins are as follows:
    • Production of adhesives
    • Industry of plastic boards, plyboard and furniture
    • Production of curable casting stuffs
    • Aides in the fabric, cement, leather and gum elastic industries
    • Binders in insulating stuffs
  2. Use as an Intermediate: The usage of methanal as intermediate is unreplaceable as a C1 edifice block for the formation of other chemical compounds. One of the most common compounds is polyurethane which is used in the industry of polyesters, plastics, plasticizers and lubricating oils. Polyacetal plastics formed from the polymerization of methanals are now being incorporated in the car industry to cut down weight and fuel ingestion. Formaldehyde is besides a edifice block for the industry of the undermentioned substances ;
    • Dyes and tanning agents
    • Crop protection agents
    • Animal provender
    • Aromas and flavorers
    • Vitamins and drugs
  3. Direct Use: Very few state of affairss require the usage of methanal without farther processing. This is because methanal has really few side effects, does non roll up in the environment and has been studied extensively. The direct utilizations of methanals are for saving and disinfection.


Though extended research and betterment have been achieved in the industry of methanal, this is non the lone beginning of the substance in the environment. Motor vehicles and air trade fumess are the chief subscribers to atmospheric methanal. This is as a consequence of uncomplete burning of hydrocarbons and the photochemical oxidization of unpersuaded hydrocarbons from burning sources.13

Due to all the merchandises incorporating methanal, indoor pollution of this substance is of major concern. It is besides known to hold a really high solubility with the first oxidization merchandise, formic acid, reassigning to organize portion of acid rain. All these are of extreme concern in footings of human wellness and environmental protection. This has initiated a batch of states, including the United Kingdom, to prosecute the forbiddance of methanal. Its usage must be shown to hold a direct usage in the procedure or in procedures that can non work without the of all time presence of methanal. 13

In recent old ages, methanal has been classed as a carcinogen by the International Agency on the Research of Cancer ( IARC ) . This determination was based on grounds proposing malignant neoplastic disease of the nasal and throat in worlds. 13


The industrial procedures outlined for the production of methanal fulfill many of the rules of green chemical science. As outlined in the study, these three commercial procedures demonstrate these rules by the usage of accelerators and assorted alternate accelerators for procedure optimization, exothermal heat of reaction is recycled through the procedure acknowledging the demand to understate energy usage, and a few other factors as presented in the study. Though all these accomplishments are surrounded by economic factors, it merely buttresses the fact that to to the full optimize a procedure, stuffs and equipment, there will besides be a batch of cost nest eggs. This is wholly what the construct of green chemical science is taking to accomplish.


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