OBAMA, COAL, AND THE SECRET SERVICE
Obama may not be a fan of coal and coal mining, but he might want to talk to his Secret Service bodyguards - you know the ones - dark glasses, no sense of humor, and suits with the lumps under the armpits. The fact is that the protection of our president relies a lot on coal based chemicals. Let's start first with the small arms used by the United States Secret Service.
Although they use a lot of different firearms, two of the popular ones are the P-90 submachine gun and the Five-Seven pistol, which are manufactured by FN Herstal of Belgium. The reason these weapons are popular is because they use calibers that penetrate modern body armor - a necessity for protecting the president.
But, these modern small arms rely on modern plastics to be light weight, small, and resistant to corrosion from sweat. Although the exact FN polymer formula for their firearms is proprietary, it is based on a polymer called Nylon 6. This plastic was specially formulated to provide increased durability and is more resilient than carbon steel and most steel alloys. It is resistant to shock, caustic liquids and temperature extremes where traditional steel/alloy frames would warp and become brittle. Even the steel slide of the pistol is encased in this polymer.
And, where does Nylon 6 come from? You guessed it, coal. Although the process is complicated, the basic feedstock for Nylon 6 is cyclohexane, which is produced by reacting benzene (which comes from coal) with hydrogen (which is commercially produced from coal). This critical feedstock was the subject of considerable research in the late 1800s and it took chemists 30 years of research to discover a way to produce it from coal.
Coal is also a critical chemical base for protecting the president and the Secret Service agents. Take bullet-resistant glass, which is constructed using polycarbonates, thermoplastics, and layers of laminated glass. The aim is to make a material with the appearance and clarity of standard glass but with effective protection from small arms'
A key polycarbonate used is Bisphenol A. Bisphenol A was first synthesized by the Russian chemist A.P. Dianin in 1891. This compound is synthesized by the condensation of acetone with two phenols (which are products of coal tar). Coal based chemicals are also critical for thermoplastics.
Kevlar is also critical to presidential protection - ranging from soft body armor for the agents to presidential clothing with Kevlar. Poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide - branded Kevlar - was invented by Polish-American chemist Stephanie Kwolek while working for DuPont, in anticipation of a gasoline shortage. In 1964, her group began searching for a new lightweight strong fiber to use for light but strong tires. The result was the first iteration of Kevlar. Kevlar is synthesized from 1,4-phenylene-diamine and terephthaloyl chloride. In order to avoid a long lesson in organic chemistry and feedstock synthesis, let's just say that they are based on coal derived chemicals.
Should the unthinkable happen and the president is injured, coal based chemicals are still there. Some of the most important are blood products, which are critical for injuries involving trauma and blood loss. Since the old blood fractionation process could transmit viruses like HIV, new methods like chromatography are used in blood processing. They are more efficient, faster and have higher yields.
Processing the albumin in the blood requires an ion exchange. A critical chemical in this process is diethylethanolamine. Its precursor is diethylamine, which is manufactured from ethanol and ammonia. Hydrogen required for ammonia synthesis is produced economically from coal or coke gasification. Maybe Obama should look around him and see how coal helps protect himself and his family. Then, maybe, he might appreciate coal a bit more.