By Michael Padilla
Insights from experiments at Sandia designed to push chemical systems far from equilibrium allowed an international group of researchers to discover a new major source of formic acid over the Pacific and Indian oceans.
The discovery was published in the July 3 issue of Nature Communications and featured on the editor’s highlights webpage. The project was a collaboration among Sandia, the University of New South Wales, the University of Leeds, the University of the Pacific and the University of Minnesota.
In addition to being the smallest organic acid and an important chemical for communication among ants, formic acid plays an important role in atmospheric chemistry, affecting rainwater acidity. However, global atmospheric models significantly underpredict the amount of formic acid present in the troposphere compared to direct measurements.
Inspired by earlier work led by Sandia researcher Craig Taatjes of combustion chemistry, Sandia physical chemist David Osborn and his colleagues hypothesized that vinyl alcohol could be a chemical precursor to the missing formic acid.