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Ball and stick model of glycolonitrile Glycolonitrile-3D-balls-A.png
Ball and stick model of glycolonitrile
Spacefill model of glycolonitrile Glycolonitrile-3D-vdW-A.png
Spacefill model of glycolonitrile
Preferred IUPAC name
Other names
3D model (JSmol)
ECHA InfoCard 100.003.155 OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg
EC Number
  • 203-469-1
MeSH glycolonitrile
PubChem CID
  • InChI=1S/C2H3NO/c3-1-2-4/h4H,2H2 Yes check.svgY
  • OCC#N
Molar mass 57.052 g·mol−1
AppearanceColourless, oily liquid
Odor odorless [2]
Density 1.10 g/mL (18.89°C) [2]
Melting point <−72 °C; −98 °F; 201 K [2]
Boiling point 99.6 °C; 211.2 °F; 372.7 K at 2.3 kPa
soluble [2]
Vapor pressure 1 mmHg (62.78°C) [2]
Occupational safety and health (OHS/OSH):
Main hazards
forms cyanide in the body [2]
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
none [2]
REL (Recommended)
C 2 ppm (5 mg/m3) [15-minute] [2]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
N.D. [2]
Related compounds
Related alkanenitriles
Related compounds
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
X mark.svgN  verify  (what is  Yes check.svgYX mark.svgN ?)

Glycolonitrile, also called hydroxyacetonitrile or formaldehyde cyanohydrin, is the organic compound with the formula HOCH2CN. It is the simplest cyanohydrin and it is derived from formaldehyde. [3] It is a colourless liquid that dissolves in water and ether. Because glycolonitrile decomposes readily into formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide, it is listed as an extremely hazardous substance. In January 2019, astronomers reported the detection of glycolonitrile, another possible building block of life among other such molecules, in outer space. [4]

Synthesis and reactions

Glycolonitrile is produced by reacting formaldehyde with hydrogen cyanide under acidic conditions. This reaction is catalysed by base.[ clarification needed ]. [5] Glycolonitrile polymerizes under alkaline conditions above pH 7.0. As the product of polymerization is an amine with a basic character, the reaction is self-catalysed, gaining in speed with ongoing conversion.

Glycolonitrile can react with ammonia to give aminoacetonitrile, which can be hydrolysed to give glycine:

H2NCH2CN + 2 H2O → H2NCH2CO2H + NH3

The industrially important chelating agent EDTA is prepared from glycolonitrile and ethylenediamine followed by hydrolysis of the resulting tetranitrile. Nitrilotriacetic acid is prepared similarly. [5]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aldehyde</span> Organic compound containing the functional group R−CH=O

In organic chemistry, an aldehyde is an organic compound containing a functional group with the structure R−CH=O. The functional group itself can be referred to as an aldehyde but can also be classified as a formyl group. Aldehydes are common and play important roles in the technology and biological spheres.

Hydrogen cyanide, sometimes called prussic acid, is a chemical compound with the formula HCN and structure H−C≡N. It is a colorless, extremely poisonous, and flammable liquid that boils slightly above room temperature, at 25.6 °C (78.1 °F). HCN is produced on an industrial scale and is a highly valued precursor to many chemical compounds ranging from polymers to pharmaceuticals. Large-scale applications are for the production of potassium cyanide and adiponitrile, used in mining and plastics, respectively. It is more toxic than solid cyanide compounds due to its volatile nature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sodium cyanide</span> Chemical compound

Sodium cyanide is a poisonous compound with the formula NaCN. It is a white, water-soluble solid. Cyanide has a high affinity for metals, which leads to the high toxicity of this salt. Its main application, in gold mining, also exploits its high reactivity toward metals. It is a moderately strong base.

Acetonitrile, often abbreviated MeCN, is the chemical compound with the formula CH3CN and structure H3C−C≡N. This colourless liquid is the simplest organic nitrile. It is produced mainly as a byproduct of acrylonitrile manufacture. It is used as a polar aprotic solvent in organic synthesis and in the purification of butadiene. The N≡C−C skeleton is linear with a short C≡N distance of 1.16 Å.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ethylene oxide</span> Cyclic compound (C2H4O)

Ethylene oxide is an organic compound with the formula C2H4O. It is a cyclic ether and the simplest epoxide: a three-membered ring consisting of one oxygen atom and two carbon atoms. Ethylene oxide is a colorless and flammable gas with a faintly sweet odor. Because it is a strained ring, ethylene oxide easily participates in a number of addition reactions that result in ring-opening. Ethylene oxide is isomeric with acetaldehyde and with vinyl alcohol. Ethylene oxide is industrially produced by oxidation of ethylene in the presence of silver catalyst.

Acrylonitrile is an organic compound with the formula CH2CHCN and the structure H2C=CH−C≡N. It is a colorless, volatile liquid although commercial samples can be yellow due to impurities. It has a pungent odor of garlic or onions. In terms of its molecular structure, it consists of a vinyl group linked to a nitrile. It is an important monomer for the manufacture of useful plastics such as polyacrylonitrile. It is reactive and toxic at low doses. Acrylonitrile was first synthesized by the French chemist Charles Moureu (1863–1929) in 1893.

Cyanogen is the chemical compound with the formula (CN)2. It is a colorless and highly toxic gas with a pungent odor. The molecule is a pseudohalogen. Cyanogen molecules consist of two CN groups – analogous to diatomic halogen molecules, such as Cl2, but far less oxidizing. The two cyano groups are bonded together at their carbon atoms: N≡C‒C≡N, although other isomers have been detected. The name is also used for the CN radical, and hence is used for compounds such as cyanogen bromide (NCBr) (but see also Cyano radical.)

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyanohydrin</span> Functional group in organic chemistry

In organic chemistry, a cyanohydrin or hydroxynitrile is a functional group found in organic compounds in which a cyano and a hydroxy group are attached to the same carbon atom. The general formula is R2C(OH)CN, where R is H, alkyl, or aryl. Cyanohydrins are industrially important precursors to carboxylic acids and some amino acids. Cyanohydrins can be formed by the cyanohydrin reaction, which involves treating a ketone or an aldehyde with hydrogen cyanide (HCN) in the presence of excess amounts of sodium cyanide (NaCN) as a catalyst:

In organic chemistry, a nitrile is any organic compound that has a −C≡N functional group. The prefix cyano- is used interchangeably with the term nitrile in industrial literature. Nitriles are found in many useful compounds, including methyl cyanoacrylate, used in super glue, and nitrile rubber, a nitrile-containing polymer used in latex-free laboratory and medical gloves. Nitrile rubber is also widely used as automotive and other seals since it is resistant to fuels and oils. Organic compounds containing multiple nitrile groups are known as cyanocarbons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Formamide</span> Chemical compound

Formamide is an amide derived from formic acid. It is a colorless liquid which is miscible with water and has an ammonia-like odor. It is chemical feedstock for the manufacture of sulfa drugs and other pharmaceuticals, herbicides and pesticides, and in the manufacture of hydrocyanic acid. It has been used as a softener for paper and fiber. It is a solvent for many ionic compounds. It has also been used as a solvent for resins and plasticizers. Some astrobiologists suggest that it may be an alternative to water as the main solvent in other forms of life.

In organic chemistry, hydrocyanation is a process for conversion of alkenes to nitriles. The reaction involves the addition of hydrogen cyanide and requires a catalyst. This conversion is conducted on an industrial scale for the production of precursors to nylon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Methyl methacrylate</span> Chemical compound

Methyl methacrylate (MMA) is an organic compound with the formula CH2=C(CH3)COOCH3. This colorless liquid, the methyl ester of methacrylic acid (MAA), is a monomer produced on a large scale for the production of poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA).

A cyanohydrin reaction is an organic chemical reaction in which an aldehyde or ketone reacts with a cyanide anion or a nitrile to form a cyanohydrin. This nucleophilic addition is a reversible reaction but with aliphatic carbonyl compounds equilibrium is in favor of the reaction products. The cyanide source can be potassium cyanide, sodium cyanide or trimethylsilyl cyanide. With aromatic aldehydes such as benzaldehyde, the benzoin condensation is a competing reaction. The reaction is used in carbohydrate chemistry as a chain extension method for example that of D-xylose.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cyanamide</span> Chemical compound featuring a nitrile group attached to an amino group

Cyanamide is an organic compound with the formula CN2H2. This white solid is widely used in agriculture and the production of pharmaceuticals and other organic compounds. It is also used as an alcohol-deterrent drug. The molecule features a nitrile group attached to an amino group. Derivatives of this compound are also referred to as cyanamides, the most common being calcium cyanamide (CaCN2).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diethanolamine</span> Chemical compound

Diethanolamine, often abbreviated as DEA or DEOA, is an organic compound with the formula HN(CH2CH2OH)2. Pure diethanolamine is a white solid at room temperature, but its tendencies to absorb water and to supercool meaning that it is often encountered as a colorless, viscous liquid. Diethanolamine is polyfunctional, being a secondary amine and a diol. Like other organic amines, diethanolamine acts as a weak base. Reflecting the hydrophilic character of the secondary amine and hydroxyl groups, DEA is soluble in water. Amides prepared from DEA are often also hydrophilic. In 2013, the chemical was classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" (Group 2B).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adiponitrile</span> Chemical compound

Adiponitrile is an organic compound with the chemical formula (CH2)4(CN)2. This viscous, colourless dinitrile is an important precursor to the polymer nylon 66. In 2005, about one million tonnes of adiponitrile were produced.

Benzyl chloride, or α-chlorotoluene, is an organic compound with the formula C6H5CH2Cl. This colorless liquid is a reactive organochlorine compound that is a widely used chemical building block.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Propargyl alcohol</span> Chemical compound

Propargyl alcohol, or 2-propyn-1-ol, is an organic compound with the formula C3H4O. It is the simplest stable alcohol containing an alkyne functional group. Propargyl alcohol is a colorless viscous liquid that is miscible with water and most polar organic solvents.

Acetone cyanohydrin (ACH) is an organic compound used in the production of methyl methacrylate, the monomer of the transparent plastic polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), also known as acrylic. It liberates hydrogen cyanide easily, so it is used as a source of such. For this reason, this cyanohydrin is also highly toxic.

Propionitrile, also known as ethyl cyanide and propanenitrile, is an organic compound with the formula CH3CH2CN. It is a simple aliphatic nitrile. The compound is a colourless, water-soluble liquid. It is used as a solvent and a precursor to other organic compounds.


  1. 1 2 3 4 "Glycolonitrile". NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. USA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. "#0304". National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
  3. Gaudry, R. (1955). "Glycolonitrile". Organic Syntheses .; Collective Volume, vol. 3, p. 436
  4. Queen Mary University of London (23 January 2019). "Astronomers find star material could be building block of life". EurekAlert! . Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  5. 1 2 Peter Pollak, Gérard Romeder, Ferdinand Hagedorn, Heinz-Peter Gelbke "Nitriles" Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry 2002, Wiley-VCH, Weinheim. doi : 10.1002/14356007.a17_363