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Formic acid (HCO2H), also called methanoic acid, is the simplest carboxylic acid. Formic acid was first isolated by the distillation of ant bodies and was named after the Latin formica, meaning “ant.” Its proper IUPAC name is now methanoic acid. Industrially, formic acid is produced by treatment of carbon monoxide with an alcohol such as methanol (methyl alcohol) in the presence of a catalyst.
Formic acid is found both naturally occurring and frequently synthesized in laboratories. It is most naturally found in the stings and bites of many insects, including bees and ants, as a chemical defense mechanism.
Formic acid has a number of commercial uses. It is used in the leather industry to degreaseand remove hair from hides and as an ingredient in tanning formulations. It is used as alatex coagulant in natural rubber production. Formic acid and its formulations are used aspreservatives of silage. It is especially valued in Europe where laws require the use of naturalantibacterial agents rather than synthetic antibiotics. Silage is fermented grass and crops thatare stored in silos and used for winter feed. Silage is produced during anaerobic fermentationwhen bacteria produce acids that lower the pH, preventing further bacterial action. Acetic acidand lactic acid are the desired acids during silage fermentation. Formic acid is used in silageprocessing to reduce undesirable bacteria and mold growth. Formic acid reduces Clostridiabacteria that would produce butyric acid causing spoilage. In addition to preventing silagespoilage, formic acid helps preserve protein content, improves compaction, and preservessugar content. Formic acid is used as a miticide by beekeepers.
Formic Acid is a flavoring substance that is liquid and colorless, and possesses a pungent odor. it is miscible in water, alcohol, ether, and glycerin, and is obtained by chemical synthesis or oxidation of methanol or formaldehyde.
Formic acid occurs in the stings of ants andbees. It is used in the manufacture of estersand salts, dyeing and finishing of textiles andpapers, electroplating, treatment of leather,and coagulating rubber latex, and also as areducing agent.