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Production of Formaldehyde

In this production of Formaldehyde, there are two common main production

process which are dehydrogenation of methanol by catalytic oxidation using silver
catalyst process and dehydrogenation of methanol by catalytic oxidation using metal
oxide catalyst process (Formox process).

For the first process which is silver catalyst route, a catalytic reactor of thin bed
filled with silver-crystal catalyst will passed over by methanol in vapour phase with air
and steam at temperature of 650oC. Dehydrogenation of methanol is a highly
endothermic will produce formaldehyde. The heat needed for the endothermic reaction
is obtained by burning hydrogen contained in the off-gas produced from the
dehydrogenation reaction.

For metal oxide catalyst route, it involves the oxidation of methanol over a
catalyst of metal oxide that is of molybdenum and iron oxide. A mixture of air and
methanol is vaporised and then passed into catalyst-packed reactor tubes. For this
process, the reaction highly exothermic at temperature of 350oC. The reaction
generates heat to provide steam for turbines and process heating (Essays UK, 2018).


There are a few advantages for these two processes for producing of
formaldehyde, first of all is for silver catalyst process. For this process, one of the
advantages is in the process of producing high yields, distilled methanol can be
recovered and recycled, higher conversion and high atomic economies. It also less
formic acid and no caustic soda and antifoam agent makes the product more versatile
for all formulations and customer. Next, this process is the most inexpensive cost in
mass production of formaldehyde because it is fully generated. This process also has
less requirement for silver as catalyst as the silver can be recovered and has long
lifespan of three to eight months. The catalyst can be removed without dust and waste
in a few hours. Finally, in this process only used water or steam rather than hot oil and
this will decrease the risk from having fire or explosion while running the process
producing product. In addition, there is no oxygen in the absorber, this is not only
decreasing the fire risk but also can improves the product quality as well.

For Metal oxide catalyst process or FORMOX process, one of the advantages
of this process over the silver based catalyst is the absence of the distillation column
to separate unreacted methanol and formaldehyde product. It also has a life span of
12 to 18 months, larger than the sliver catalyst. Next, the metal oxide catalyst uses
lower temperature when the reaction takes place which is in the range of 250-345oC.
Furthermore, by comparison with both catalyst, iron-molybdenum oxide catalyst which
is the metal oxide used for this process is cheaper than silver catalyst. Besides, the
catalyst from solution does not have to be recovered because of the FORMOX process
undergoes gas-phase reaction. Next, the recovery of heat energy from the reaction
help to decrease economic and environmental effects because of the process is highly
exothermic. Moreover, waste can also be minimized throughout the process by using
air as an oxidant. It is because the toxicity and by-products formed could be reduced
by using air instead of chemical oxidising agents. Last but not least, the unreacted
compound will be in a minimum amount as the conversion rates achieved is high,
making the purification steps to be simplified. It also increases the efficiency of energy,
material and equipment in the process (Shitole Karan, 2016).


Although silver catalyst process has numerous advantages, it also has some
disadvantages. Firstly, high pressure drops could happen in the process within a short
time. Secondly, the usage of silver catalyst in a process will yield lesser formaldehyde
compared to when using metal oxide catalyst. Furthermore, as the catalyst is sensitive
to the impurities of iron-group, the purity of feed flowrate or the reactant is highly
important. Last but not least, if there are transition metal presence in the process, it will
affect the reaction and decrease the production rates.

From the disadvantages of silver catalyst process mentioned above, there are
actions that can be taken to avoid the negative impacts from happening in the process.
Firstly, the process should be frequently shut down, in order to replace the catalyst that
had been used. This is to avoid high pressure drop from happening in a short time.
The rapid rise for the pressure drop could also be reduced by choosing two-stage
process instead of the critical second oxidation stage process. Next, by lowering the
initial capital investment, it can overcome the low production yield. Moreover, the
temperature and other factors must be properly controlled throughout the process in
order to avoid unwanted reactions from happening when there is transition metal

For the metal oxide catalyst process, it also has disadvantages. Firstly, if air is
excessively feed the process, there might be unwanted mixture in the air which could
make dangerous reactions to occur. Moreover, the tail gas also contains lots of
impurities and flammable compound. Last but not least, the operating cost when using
metal oxide as a catalyst in a process is higher compared to silver catalyst process
because to increase the gas flow, large equipment is needed.

However, despite the disadvantages of using metal oxide as a catalyst in a

process, there are improvement actions could be taken to avoid such problems. Firstly,
a proper care must be taken seriously to avoid dangerous reactions from happening
which they are usually caused of the excessive air feeding the process. Secondly,
flammable compound at the tail gas can be burnt by adding fuel to the system, which
it is to avoid fire or explosion from occurring at the tail gas (phoenix, n.d.).

Process Flow Diagram

Figure 1: Process Flow Diagram of silver catalyst process

Figure 2: Process Flow Diagram of metal oxide catalyst process (anonymous, 2016)