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Formic acid makes airport runways safe for winter take-offs and landings


Ice and snow on airport runways represent a considerable risk. De-icing salts fail to meet expectations. To be sure, they melt ice, but due to their corrosiveness they also pose a hazard to sensitive, highly-stressed landing gears. In the long-run de-icing salts imperil safe operation of the plane.

So that planes can take off and land safely airports spray de-icing agents containing formic acid salts on runways, so-called formiates. Such de-icing agents not only melt ice and snow very effectively, but also sustain its melting effect longer than other agents. Besides they allow airplanes tires better traction on runway surfaces. It is also a vital consideration that formiates, unlike de-icing salts, have practically no corrosive effect on sensitive landing gears. Another advantage is that the acid is bio-degradable which is why formiates increasingly have the edge over other de-icing agents, such as acetates, for example.

This year BASF, the world’s largest producer of formic acid, inaugurated the operation of a formic acid plant at Nanjing, its new, integrated production site in China. Together with another production facility at BASF’s manufacturing complex in Ludwigshafen, Germany, the company can now produce up to 230,000 metric tons of formic acid annually.

The product is one of BASF’s “evergreens”. The company started looking into formic acid in the early twenties. Today it makes the acid out of carbon monoxide which combined with methanol forms methyl formate. In a second step the latter is split by means of water into methanol and formic acid.

Formic acid has many uses. It helps, for instance, to keep certain feeds fresh and free of salmonellae, removes paints and rust from metallic surfaces and scale from kettles and boilers. In breweries and wineries it disinfects kegs, casks and barrels, applied as an auxiliary in the pharmaceutical and crop protection industry it regulates pH values, in cleaning it acts as dirt remover and disinfectant.

Currently researchers are working on making formic acid a source of energy for mobile phones and other portable electronic products equipped with micro fuel cells. Formic acid will provide a considerably longer battery life than conventional storage media. They will also no longer have to rely on being plugged into an electric outlet.


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