Formaldehyde, like methanol, is a versatile chemical that enables manufacture of an even larger variety of successful commercial chemicals. It was discovered in 1859, and has been manufactured since the beginning of the twentieth century. Formaldehyde derivatives serve a wide variety of end uses such as wood products, plastics, and coatings. Formaldehyde is considered one of the world’s most important industrial and research chemicals, owing to its low cost, high purity, and the vast number of chemical reactions it can participate in.
As the table (below) summarizing formaldehyde derivatives and their intended uses shows, tracking global demand for formaldehyde offers a significant challenge. This study will focus on the derivatives above the “others” label, which cover roughly 80 percent of all formaldehyde consumed globally.
In addition to the vast utility of formaldehyde and derivative use, from this list, it should be evident that formaldehyde consumption is highly aligned with both wood panel consumption (via UF, PR, and MF use), and also with the production of automobiles (POM, polyols, MDI).
UF and PF resins represent the vast majority of formaldehyde consumption. Methylenebis (MDI), polyacetal resins (POM), and 1,4 butanediol, while on absolute terms not as large as the formaldehyde resins, represent the fastest rate of growth among formaldehyde derivatives, owing mostly to advances in urethane applications in the automotive industry, as well as use of POM as a metal substitute in some electronics applications. On a global basis, approximately 51 percent of all formaldehyde consumed is used in resins that are mainly used to construct wood products. The remaining non-wood uses of formaldehyde are tremendously diverse, ranging from engineering thermoplastics to chemical intermediates to pesticides.
A booming and robust economic expansion in China has clearly increased the need for formaldehyde in wood resin applications, driving up consumption of formaldehyde into UF and PF manufacturing processes. Asia is clearly leading the way with growth, in particular in the utilization of wood resins. Yet gains in growth for formaldehyde consumption over this period have been universal, reflecting generally the relatively healthy global economy (2001 being the exception) over the period.