Formic acid to fight slippery road conditions

Paul Boughton
Salts of formic acid, which are known as formates, are now being used successfully in the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Austria to remove slippery ice from roads, sidewalks and bikeways.

Compared with conventional gritting materials, these liquid de-icing agents act more efficiently and in a more environmentally acceptable manner.

They are particularly suitable for removing thin coats of ice and can also be used as a preventive measure when weather forecasts predict snowfall and icy conditions. Moreover, they support swift and continuous de-icing and allow ice and snow to be easily removed by mechanical means.

As road salt based on sodium chloride is corrosive and non-biodegradable, it may harm plants. Grit and sand are controversial because their effect is limited, and they may even add to respirable dust loads as they are spread and recovered.

In contrast, the salts of formic acid are environmentally acceptable and totally biodegradable, eliminating the effort and cost of waste disposal. As
they are so easy on the environment, spreading them on tree-lined roads or close to surface waters poses no problem.

In addition, these de-icing agents are less corrosive, yet highly effective even when used very sparingly.

A number of municipal authorities in the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Austria are already using formates successfully to clear roads in the winter. Enterprises and private consumers who care a lot about the environment and are technically minded as well rely increasingly on the de-icing agent. German local authorities, too, have started to show some interest this winter.

“We helped our customers to develop new uses for formates based on their years of experience in de-icing airport runways,” explained Sibylle Gruner, Formic Acid Marketing, BASF Intermediates division.

Formic acid is used in leather manufacturing, helps 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; and in cleaning it acts as a dirt remover and disinfectant.

Apart from being used as de-icing agents, formic acid salts, or formates, are also valuable auxiliaries in oil production.

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