So, you’re relaxing on the beach and suddenly it appears on the horizon—the blimp, drifting across the sky, advertising sunscreen or toting a banner for a local restaurant. Besides helium, the lighter-than-air gas that gives blimps and other large balloons their buoyancy, what chemistry goes into these airborne behemoths?

Many “gas” blimps are made of polyester, a product of chlorine chemistry. The Goodyear® blimp, for example, is polyester coated with neoprene. Neoprene, developed by DuPont in 1930, is a chlorinated compound, the first synthetic rubber. Some hot air balloons are coated with silicone elastomers, also made with chlorine chemistry. Blimps that use hot-air rather than gas may contain nylon, which is manufactured using sodium hydroxide, chlorine’s co-product in the chlor-alkali industry.

Electronics are also involved in operating blimps, and chlorine chemistry is critical to integrated circuits of all types through its role in purifying silicon. In addition, there is some steel in the blimp construction. Chlorine chemistry is used in the “pickling” stage of steel production.

Blimps and other types of flying balloons are fascinating applications of chemistry—something to contemplate the next time one goes lumbering across the sky!

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