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Dimethylformamide is a powerful solvent with the ability to dissolve a variety of organic, inorganic and resin materials. It has been called the universal organic solvent and is especially effective when a low rate of evaporation is required. Owing to its unique qualities, the search for alternatives is not a simple task. Possible alternatives for its use in electronics manufacture, polyurethane coatings and general solvent applications are offered.

  • In electronics applications, dimethylformamide (or mixtures containing dimethylformamide) have been used as solvents for epoxy resin catalysts used during the lamination of circuit boards. DMF was a replacement for ethylene glycol monomethyl ether when questions about its toxicity arose. Many companies are now using propylene glycol substitutes, which are thought to be less hazardous. Terpenes and ethyl lactate may also be substitutes for this use.
  • DMF is used as a component of the carrier solvent for polyurethane coatings. Possible alternatives for this use include water-based and electron beam cured coatings. However, based on information from the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance, one Massachusetts company that has investigated these alternatives for its particular use has found them to be lacking in quality. Additional application-specific research may be necessary for these alternatives to replace DMF.
  • Solvents with different hazard and toxicity characteristics than DMF (e.g., dimethylacetamide or flammable solvents) may be alternatives for general solvent applications. For each use the technical, environmental, safety and cost performance of the alternative must be evaluated and compared to DMF.
  • Where alternatives are not available, closed loop recovery may be an appropriate toxics use reduction technique for some DMF applications. In 1991, DuPont of Waynesboro, Virginia installed a wet scrubber and distillation unit to recover DMF used in the manufacture of synthetic fibers. This recovery process reduced their purchase of virgin solvent by 3 million pounds per year, and reduced air emissions by 70%.

SRI, 1997 (see endnote #2 for full citation); Virginia Waste Reduction
Assistance Program, 1991, "Waste Reduction Success Story: Solvent Recovery -
Fiber Production" (Virginia Department Of Environmental Quality) Volume 1,
Number 2.