Q: Why is chlorine produced?

A: It is not an exaggeration to say that chlorine and chlorine chemistry—the use of chlorine in chemical processes—are essential to everyday life. Chlorine is used in a vast range of chemical processes to create thousands of often indispensable products. While perhaps best known for its role in providing clean drinking water, chlorine chemistry also helps provide energy-efficient building materials, electronics, fiber optics, solar energy cells, 93 percent of life-saving pharmaceuticals, 86 percent of crop protection compounds, medical plastics, and much more. In most of these applications, there are no viable substitutes for chlorine.

Q: How is chlorine produced?

A: Chlorine is produced from one of nature’s most plentiful and inexhaustible minerals—common salt, sodium chloride. Yes, the same white solid you sprinkle on your baked potato!

Chlorine is produced using the “chlor-alkali process.” In this process, electricity is applied to a solution of salt water, or brine. The electricity separates sodium from chloride. Chlorine gas, hydrogen gas and caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) solution are the “co-products” of the chlor-alkali process. Chlorine and caustic soda are building block compounds for thousands of useful products. Hydrogen can be recycled into the chlor-alkali process as a zero-emission fuel.

Q: How much chlorine is produced in the United States?

A: According to The Chlorine Institute statistics, in 2010, the U.S. chlor-alkali industry produced 11.6 million short tons of chlorine and 12.2 million short tons of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide).

Q: What are the main uses of chlorine produced in the United States?

A: Approximately 40 percent of chlorine produced in the United States is used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl)—a versatile plastic found in such diverse products as prosthetic limbs and energy-saving windows. Another 37 percent of chlorine produced in North America is used to produce basic organic chemicals needed for manufacturing, and solvents for metalworking, dry cleaning, and electronics. Other large uses of chlorine include producing hydrochloric acid for myriad chemical processes and titanium dioxide, a popular white pigment.

Comparatively small amounts of chlorine are used for significant impact. For example, roughly four percent of North American chlorine is used for water treatment—a pervasive use that helps protect the public from serious waterborne diseases like cholera and typhoid fever. Similarly, a very small percentage of chlorine produced is used to help manufacture over 93 percent of pharmaceuticals sold in the U.S. These include medicines that help patients manage heart and respiratory disease, ulcers, anemia and depression.

Q: What is the economic contribution of the chlor-alkali industry to the United States?

A: The chlor-alkali industry, with annual sales of over $8 billion, directly employs approximately 20,000 American workers, earning a total of about $1.3 billion per year. Another estimated 40,000 workers are employed in chlorine-related chemistries, manufacturing products such as PVC resin, the powdered form of PVC used with other ingredients to produce everything from water pipes to medical equipment; titanium dioxide, a ubiquitous white pigment used in paints, coatings and cosmetics; and hypochlorite bleaches, used for whitening and disinfection. Their wages total approximately $2.8 billion per year. Annual sales of these products total approximately $38 billion. Learn more…

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