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What Is Furfuryl Alcohol?

Liz Thomas
Liz Thomas

Furfuryl alcohol is an organic compound that is made up of a hydroxymethyl group and a furan ring. This compound is also known as 2-furancarbino and 2-furylmethanol. It is used as a solvent and to make wetting agents, adhesives, and resins. Other uses of furfuryl alcohol include its use in rocket fuel, and for wood treatment.

In order to create furfuryl alcohol the aldehyde furfural is reduced. Furfural is made from vegetable waste including corn cobs, sugar cane, rice hulls and oat hulls. China produces 67 percent of all furfuryl alcohol manufactured in the world. Because China produces so much of this chemical it greatly influences the price.

Furfuryl alcohol can be made from sugar cane.
Furfuryl alcohol can be made from sugar cane.

The alcohol is normally clear, though if the chemical is exposed to air it can change to a light yellow color. The smell is similar to bitter almond, though some people describe the smell as a slight burnt odor. It easily mixes with organic solvents and water.

In the metal casting industry, furfuryl alcohol is used to make furan resins in sand binders. This alcohol is mixed with phenol-formaldehyde or urea to form the binding agent of the resin. The binder then helps to form sand into different shapes. In particular, 2-furylmethanol is used in gas hardening processes, no-bake systems, and warm or hot box procedures. No other chemical can be used in its place when making these resins.

This is also an important component of wood adhesives. The alcohol can easily move into wood cells due to its low molecular weight. When a catalyst or heat is applied to the wood the alcohol polymerizes. This results in wood that's harder, more stable, and resistant to decay. Sometimes wood adhesive is applied to wood as a treatment even if nothing is being attached.

Furfuryl alcohol may also be added to cement and mortar used in flooring. As with wood adhesives the alcohol makes the flooring compounds much stronger and denser. Cement shrinkage is less than one percent and can withstand very high temperatures. Often, furfuryl resin is the component added to cement, not pure furfuryl alcohol.

The role of furfuryl alcohol in rocket fuel is that of an ignition source. When the alcohol comes into contact with the oxidizer agents, typically some type of nitric acid, it ignites. The alcohol fuel is hypergolic. This type of fuel is one in which a flame or ignition is not needed. When the oxidizer and fuel come into contact with one another, the fuel spontaneously ignites.

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    • Furfuryl alcohol can be made from sugar cane.
      Furfuryl alcohol can be made from sugar cane.