Reilly Tar and Chemical, Fairmont

Times West Virginian
April 7, 1940

Reilly Tar and Chemical, Local Plant, Plays Major Role In New Era of Coal

Fairmont Refinery Is One Of 16 in America Which Process Tar From Coal

Editor's note: This is the ninth in a series of articles on coal, its by-products, and its possibilities for future developments, prepared by The Times West Virginian and the Upper Monongahela Valley association. Today we learn about one of northern West Virginia's own leaders in the chemical field, a maker of by-products and derivatives from black lumps of coal. That company is the Reilly Tar and Chemical company, of Fairmont.

In the hills of West Virginia are buried great chemical treasures, still potential to a large degree, yet none the less real. Let us think of these treasures, and of the chemistry of them, which are bound up in our State's greatest single product, bituminous coal. We normally think of coal only as a fuel to heat our homes and run our industries. We seldom credit it as being the source of important health giving medicines, of superior dyes, of powerful explosives, of those new molded resin plastics now finding wide usage, of fertilizers, and of a variety of other valuable chemical products. Yet those products and many more are derived from coal. They are of large industrial importance today and will be of tremendous value in the future as more of our coal is processed for its chemicals before it is burned as fuel. Without coal many of our present day inventions would be impossible.

One of 16

In the Upper Monongahela Valley are located industries which carry on the processing of coal a considerable step farther than mining. Located at Fairmont is a coke plant which consumes a large portion of the coal mined in that vicinity and after its destructive distillation through coke ovens, produces products of great value such as coke, coal tar, ammonium sulphate, gas and light oils. Per ton of coal these products are recovered as follows: 1,500 pounds coke, 12 gallons of coal tar, 10 gallons of ammoniacal-liquor, 3 1-2 gallons of light oil, 11,000 cubic feet of gas. Of these by-products, coal tar is the most valuable and from which are derived essentials necessary to our well being. The crude tar is shipped to the coal tar refinery of the Reilly Tar and Chemical corporation, also located at Fairmont and one of 16 such plants well distributed throughout the country. At the refinery the tar is stored in large tanks from which it is later put through a process of distillation in stills.

Various steps in the distillation are carefully controlled so as to collect the different fractions of distillate bearing certain derivatives which are further processed for extraction and are converted by chemical processes into alcohols, ammonia, urea or even into the new fibre products, Mylon.

The coal tar, of which we think primarily, because its value is so little realized, contains a multitude of chemicals and from those are derived many more. The tar is not suitable for use as it comes from the coke ovens, but must be processed, and that processing comprises the work of one of the principal chemical industries of the country, the coal tar industry.

Base of Medicinals

By distillation of the tar and subsequent refining we obtain carbolic acid and cresylic acid, both of which are used for medicinal, in the manufacture of synthetic resin plastics and for anteseptics and disinfectants. We also obtain the anthracene from which the fast anthracene dyes are made, and carbazole from which an unusually high quality blue dye is produced. In the coal tar distillation, we get creosote oil used for treating railroad ties, telephone poles, and lumber, preserving them against decay and insect attack. Creosoted piling and dock timbers are not attacked by rot or sea worms which very soon destroy exposed untreated wood. Creosote, as you may know, has no equal in the field of wood preservation.

It is one of the most important products of the coal tar industry. It comprises the distillates of coal tar properly combined to give the best preservative qualities and to meet specifications established for the wood preserving industry. Untreated exposed wood decays so rapidly and termite attack is so prevalent that it is becoming increasingly necessary that all exposed wood be creosoted. Refined creosote is now available that imparts no color or odor to the wood and permits the wood to be painted.

Pyridine a Product

Another of the coal tar products is pyridine, which has heretofore been used primarily to denature or poison alcohol used for industrial purposes. Not it is the starting point for making sulfapyridine, the newly discovered cure for pneumonia. It is entering another new and important fields as a chemical raw material. These include the manufacture of resins, rubber accelerators and anti-oxidants.

An interesting use of pyridine bases is in the manufacture of inhibitors for the pickling of steel. In the manufacture of steel it is necessary to remove the scale from the steel. This is done by dipping the steel into a bath of dilute sulphuric acid. Unfortunately the sulphuric acid, while it removes the scale, also attacks the steel, thereby destroying some valuable steel. By the addition of a minute amount of coal tar, pyridine bases to the sulphuric acid, the action of the acid is changed so that it removes the scale but does not attack the steel; thus both steel and acid are saved.

Part of Motor Fuel

Meta cresol is converted by chemical reaction into the powerful germicide and fungicide, thymol, that originally came from oil of thyme; and into isothymol which prevents the development of rancidity in vegetable oils. Para-cresol is the starting point for oil soluble resins. Ortho cresol is another such product from which synthetic vanillin, or vanilla flavor, is made.

Benezene finds extensive use in motor fuel and also as a chemical intermediate. Toluene is used as a solvent and also as a chemical syntheses. From it is manufactured trinitro-toluene which is of particular significance in the mining industry, and as a war chemical.

Vitamins K1 and K2, the new blood coagulants, are made from the coal tar material beta methyl naphthlalene. From phenol is derived picric acid, the powerful high explosive. Roofing and water-proofing pitches are coal tar distillation products, as is naphthalene, best known in the form of moth balls or moth flakes. Naphthalene is the starting point for the production of many dyes, waxes, solvents and resins.

Phthalic anhydride is made from naphthalene and in turn is used to make resins of great importance to the manufacture of modern paints. A large group of dyestuffs are made from naphthalene and other hydro-carbons from coal tar.

Apple Tree Spray

Stock dips are of coal tar origin. A pure form of carbon used for making graphite, carborundum, and carbon electrodes is the resultant product from the coal tar distillation. It is also used for recarburizaing and case-hardening steel.

A new apple tree spray has been developed from coal tar oils for controlling the apple crop from one year to the next. Chinch bugs are are [sic] eradicated with coal tar oils.

Coal tar is such a permanently stable product that it is the basic material for the production of enamels for coating the inside and of water lines to prevent corrosion, encrustation and tuberculation, and to increase water flow by decreasing friction. These coatings have been found in good condition after 50 years of service. Coal tar enamels are standard outside protective coatings on oil and gas lines buried in the ground. These resistant coatings are used on all sizes of pipe from the smallest gas pipe to the immense water flumes of Boulder Dim [sic] and the Colorado river aqueducts. Structural steel is also protected by coal tar compositions. Coal tar paints, pitches and enamels afford protection against acids, alkalis and the atmosphere.

In conclusion, we should not fail to recognize the widespread and important use of coal tar in building roads. By suitable refining, coal tar becomes a building material that has no equal for the construction of black top roads. No other bituminous binder has the adhesiveness to stone, the non-skid characteristics, and permanence, of coal tar. Roads in which coal tar is the binder are economical to build and have long life.

The Coal It Takes

It is indicated that to produce one 10,000 gallon tank car of crude coal tar it is necessary to mine 17 fifty-ton carloads of coal, therefore, it can be readily noted the importance of using coal tar in the construction of West Virginia roads as there is a very direct correlation between coal mining and coal tar production and its use in road building.

The high melting point coal tar pitches are used in the manufacture of skeet targets, or clay pigeons, as binders for fuel briquettes, carbon electrodes and battery boxes, and for foundry core compounds.

Thus we have the chemical treasures of the coal which is lying quietly in our hills ready to yield all of the products we have considered and numerous others. You may, then think of coal, not merely as a black mineral that burns, but as a rich natural resource of our country and state that enters into the every day life and welfare of our people, yielding, as it does, medicinal, perfumes, dyes, flavors, plastics, paints, preservatives, road construction materials, explosives, ore flotation reagents, photographic chemicals and a wide range of other essential chemical products.

Business and Industry

West Virginia Archives and History