Formic acid (methanoic acid, HCOOH) is a colorless liquid with a sharp odor. It is soluble in water, various alcohols, acetone and ether. Most applications require formic acid in concentrations of 85%, 90%, 94% or 99%; the 85% product accounts for the major portion of global demand and is considered the industry standard. Major applications include silage and animal feed preservation, leather and tanning, textiles, formate salts, pharmaceuticals/food chemicals, rubber chemicals (antiozonants and coagulants), catalysts and plasticizers. In many instances, formic acid is used to regulate the pH of chemical processes.
Silage preservation/animal feed additives surpassed leather and tanning as the largest world application for formic acid by 2009. Improving living standards globally have led to increased consumption of meat; as a result, demand for formic acid in silage preservation and animal feeds has increased. Europe is the largest market for this application since the European Union banned antibiotic growth promoters in early 2006. During 2009-2012, consumption of formic acid in silage preservation and animal feeds increased significantly in most other regions. Leather and tanning applications are large markets in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and Europe (Italy, Spain and France). In India, Southeast Asia and Central and South America, the textile and natural rubber markets are also large consumers of formic acid.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of formic acid:
Key findings in the formic acid market include the following:
- Formic acid is not at risk for large-scale substitution by competing products in most applications.
- The current (early 2013) world market is amply supplied. Additional world capacity is expected during 2013-2018, mainly in China.
- Silage preservation/animal feed additives and leather and tanning account for nearly 49% of world consumption. As a result, these applications largely define demand growth. Consumption in silage preservation, and to a lesser degree, animal feed additives, is highly dependent on weather conditions; both applications have benefitted from improving living standards, particularly in Asia, and higher meat consumption.
- Demand in silage preservation/animal feed additives is expected to grow significantly in most markets during 2012-2018; European growth has matured, particularly for silage preservation.
- World consumption of formic acid is expected to be significant during 2012-2018; average annual growth is expected at 3.7%. China, Other Asia (excluding Japan), Central and South America and Africa are forecast to exhibit strong demand growth; increases in population and living standards are expected to result in increased consumption of formic acid.
- Lower labor and capital costs and a rapidly growing market have made China the top choice for additional investment/capacity.
- Consolidation and plant closures are expected in some areas with slow consumption growth as new capacity is added in China.
- China will strengthen its position as the single-largest producer and exporter of formic acid.