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Polyvinyl chloride was discovered late in the nineteenth century. Scientists observing the newly created chemical gas, vinyl chloride,
also discovered that when the gas was exposed to sunlight, it
underwent a chemical reaction (now recognized as polymerization) resulting in an off-white solid material. But, the solid material was so difficult to work with that it was cast aside in favor of other materials. Years later in the 1920s, rubber
scientist Waldo Semon was hired by BFGoodrich to develop a synthetic rubber to replace increasingly costly natural rubber. His experiments eventually produced polyvinyl chloride. Although product developers began to use PVC in a variety of ways – in shoe heels, golf balls, and raincoats, to name just a few – its application increased significantly during World War II.
PVC turned out to be an excellent replacement for rubber insulation in wiring and was used extensively
on U.S. military ships. After 1945, its peace-time usage exploded.

In the U.S., PVC's materials are natural gas and rock salt.

  • Natural gas is heated under pressure to form ethylene. This is called "cracking".

  • Common rock salt (sodium chloride) is split by electrolysis to produce chlorine and lye (sodium hydroxide).

  • Chlorine and ethylene are combined to form vinyl chloride monomer (VCM).

  • VCM molecules are then joined end-to-end (polymerized) to form long chains of Polyvinyl Chloride polymer (plastic).

  • The thermoplastic PVC powder is compounded, melted and extruded into pipes.