Thursday, March 23, 2017

Polyester, the Petroleum product in EVERYTHING. Part 1

Have you ever played the game Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Talking about Polyester is a little bit like that. One, it's in a lot of things. Two, to look at how Polyester is made and how it comes from Oil is a bit like the above mentioned game.

Plus, it's complicated.

So what is Polyester? First, it's important to understand what a Polymer is, which is what Polyester is. A polymer is a substance that's made up of a lot of little similar substances stuck together. It's basically one substance repeated a bunch of times until it makes one larger substance, does that make sense?

That's what Polyester is.

Now specifically, it's a synthetic material most commonly made from Polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or PETE. Now what is Polyethylene terephthalate? It's a thermoplastic polymer. We know what polymers are, so what's a thermoplastic? It's a plastic that's pliable.

Now, what is PET made from?

Ethylene glycol and Dimethyl terephthalate.

Where does Ethylene glycol come from? Well it comes from Ethylene.

Now this is the important part. Ethylene is a PETROCHEMICAL that comes oil refining process, specifically steam cracking.

The important part there is that's it's a petrochemical. Something that derives from Petroleum.

And that's our bingo. This would be where we go, HAH, Kevin Bacon! Now you knew from the start that Polyester came from Petroleum, I kind of spoiled that part. But now you see exactly how it comes from Petroleum. That's the important part. It's not as simple as, you have oil and then next step you have Polyester. The system in which we develop these petrochemicals is VERY complex. It involves many steps.

Which is why it's important to highlight just how pervasive petrochemicals are in our day to day lives. They're in a lot of things, and it's not easy to find out exactly what because the process is so complex.

In Part II I'll explore just how much stuff Polyester is in.

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