Furfural

November 25, 2019
You might smell me during your Thanksgiving preparations.
What molecule am I?

Furfural, or furan-2-carbaldehyde, is an oily liquid formed when sugars from lignocellulosic biomasses such as corncobs, sawdust, and oat hulls dehydrate. This is a natural process that is the basis of the commercial production of furfural.

In the first half of the 19th century, chemists such as Johann W. Döbereiner at the University of Jena (Germany) and John Stenhouse at Glasgow University discovered furfural in the distillation products of various biomaterials. It did not become an industrial product until Quaker Oats (Chicago) began to produce it on a large scale from oat hulls.

Furfural, one of the earliest sustainable chemical feedstocks, is used to synthesize a wide range of industrial chemicals, including solvents, resins, plastics, and furan derivatives. As the hazard information table shows, it must be handled with an abundance of caution.

Furfural is one of several five-carbon oxygenated hydrocarbons that make up the aroma of canned pumpkin you might use to make your Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. Oddly, this odor differs significantly from that of the six-carbon compounds, such as former Molecule of the Week cis-3-hexen-1-ol, that emanates from freshly cut pumpkins.

Happy Thanksgiving from the MOTW team!

Furfural hazard information

GHS classification*: flammable liquids, category 4
H227—Combustible liquid Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: acute toxicity,oral, category 3
H301—Toxic if swallowed Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: acute toxicity, dermal, category 4
H312—Harmful in contact with skin Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: skin corrosion/irritation, category 2
H315—Causes skin irritation Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: serious eye damage/eye irritation, category 2A
H319—Causes serious eye irritation Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: acute toxicity,inhalation, category 2
H330—Fatal if inhaled Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: specific target organ toxicity, single exposure, respiratory tract irritation, category 3
H335—May cause respiratory irritation Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: carcinogenicity, category 2
H351—Suspected of causing cancer Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: hazardous to the aquatic environment, acute hazard, category 3
H402—Harmful to aquatic life Chemical Safety Warning
GHS classification: hazardous to the aquatic environment, long-term hazard, category 3
H412—Harmful to aquatic life with long-lasting effects Chemical Safety Warning

**Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals. Explanation of pictograms.

Furfural fast facts

CAS Reg. No. 98-01-1
Empirical formula C5H4O2
Molar mass 96.08 g/mol
Appearance Colorless oily liquid
Boiling point 162 ºC
Water solubility 83 g/L
Chemical Abstract Service - a division of ACS

Learn more about this molecule from CAS, the most authoritative and comprehensive source for chemical information.

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