Natural Gas: Fueling the Medical World

Americans made 990 million visits to a physician in 2015. If you made one of those visits, chances are your doctor used plastic instruments or prescribed you medicine in a plastic bottle. These items are everywhere in the medical world and would be far more difficult and more expensive to create without natural gas.

The ethylene building blocks of polyethylene, the world’s most popular plastic, are made from the ethane molecule, abundantly produced when natural gas is separated into its different components. Polyethylene is used in many disposal tools found in hospitals, such as bandages and syringes. Another product made from ethylene, ethylene glycol, possesses an antifreeze capability that is often used to preserve tissues and organs for transplants.  

The medical industry depends not only on products derived from natural gas molecules for low-cost tools and the transportation of sensitive transplants, but also for major technological and surgical advancements. Research show that polyethylene, the plastic described above, could serve as a promising material for post-traumatic facial reconstruction. Another molecule, propylene, can be created from propane, another direct byproduct natural gas processing.  Propylene is the building block for the plastic polypropylene, the plastic most commonly used to create prosthetics. In the past, prosthetics have been constructed from traditional materials, such as steel and wood, but today, are made almost exclusively from polypropylene because of the material’s durability, and lightness.

Without these and many other products that originate from the molecules that make up natural gas, the modern medical industry wouldn’t be the same. Next time you visit the doctor, be sure to pay attention to the tools and technology that natural gas makes possible in the medical world!