Chemicals from Coal Facility
The Coal Facility in Kingsport, Tennessee — the first U.S. plant to use coal rather than petroleum to produce chemicals for plastics —began operating in 1983.
Throughout the years, coal has been an important natural resource in the manufacture of chemical products.
Liquid coal tar products were first obtained from coal in England during the 1700s and used in shipbuilding. Lamp oil was produced from coal in the U.S. as early as 1850. In the late 1800s, fuel gas and metallurgical coke were made in Germany. The resulting tar by-products were refined and used around the world as aromatics for pharmaceuticals, dyes, explosives, and photographic chemicals. As a result of World War I and Germany’s embargo of aromatic coal tar products–particularly toluene needed for TNT – the U.S. domestic coal-chemicals industry developed.
Throughout the 20th century, coal was converted to gases or liquids, which typically were reacted with carbon monoxide in the presence of catalysts to form methanol or related simple molecules. The coal gases or liquids could also be cracked to give olefins and acetylenes, which were then used to produce other organic chemicals.
Most recently, coal gasification technologies like those used by Eastman have been employed to produce chemical feedstocks, the building blocks from which complex chemicals like plastics, fibers, dyes, and other consumer products are constructed. Eastman was the first company in the U.S. to produce a new generation of industrial chemicals commercially using coal gasification technology. The Chemicals from Coal Facility is located in Kingsport, Tennessee, on a 55-acre site adjoining Eastman’s existing chemical complex.
Visit National Historic Chemical Landmarks to read more about the Chemicals from Coal facility.
Excerpted with permission, National Historic Chemical Landmarks Program