Formic acid is a colorless liquid with a pungent odour and the simplest carboxylic acid. It occurs naturally in ant and bee venoms. It also naturally occurs in the environment from forest emissions. It is soluble in water and many organic solvents.
Industrially formic acid is prepared from methyl formamate, which is produced from methanol and carbon monoxide in the presence of a strong base. Typical reaction conditions are moderate temperature and high pressure. The methyl formamate is hydrolyzed with excess water to produce formic acid.
CH3OH + CO --> HCO2CH3
HCO2CH3 + H2O --> HCO2H + CH3OH
Another method is to convert the formamate to formamide using ammonia and then hydrolyze with sulphuric acid
HCO2CH3 + NH3 à HCO(NH2) + CH3OH
2 HCO(NH2) + 2H2O + H2SO4 --> 2HCO2H + (NH4)2SO4
Other production routes are through hydrogenation of carbon dioxide, by-product in acetic acid production and oxidation of biomass.