Methyl formate or methyl methanoate, is the methyl ester of formic acid, the simplest ester.
Methyl formate is a colorless organic liquid, with an ethereal odor, low surface tension and high vapor pressure. Its melting point is at −100 °C and boils at 32 °C. It has a density of 0.97 g/cm3. It is soluble in water (30g/100 ml) and other solvents, such as ethyl ether, acetone. Its flash point is -19°C and its auto-ignition temperature is 449°C.
Methyl formate is available from chemical suppliers.
Methyl formate can be synthesized by reacting anhydrous formic acid with dry methanol, over a strong desiccant, such as calcium chloride.
Industrially, it is prepared by via carbonylation of methanol, using sodium methoxide as a catalyst and pyridine as a temperature promoter, in an extremely dry medium. The smallest traces of water can disrupt the reaction.
- CH3OH + CO → HCOOCH3
- Formamide synthesis
- Organic extractions
Methyl formate vapors may irritate lungs, so it's best to work in a well ventilated area. Since its boiling point is lower than the human body temperature, samples of methyl formate should not be kept too long in hand.
Due to its low boiling point, Methyl formate should be stored in closed bottles, away from any source of heat or light, preferable in a fridge. This is mandatory during hot summers.
Methyl formate can be safely burned.