What Does The Chemical Industry Produce?

What Does The Chemical Industry Produce?
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The chemical industry produces an immense variety of products which influence on virtually every aspect of our lives. While many of the products from the industry, such as soaps, detergents and perfumes, are bought directly by the consumer, others are used as intermediates to make other products.  

For example, in Europe, 70% of chemical manufacturers are utilised to make products by other industries, including different sections of the chemical industry itself. The industry uses a broad range of raw materials, from air and minerals to oil.

What Are The Different Types Of Chemical Industries Are Produce?

The products of the chemical industry can be divided into three categories:

  • Basic chemicals
  • Speciality chemicals
  • Consumer chemicals

Some other categorisations used, but this one is simple and effective in the context of this web site. Outputs range broadly, with basic chemicals produced in large quantities and some speciality chemicals produced in average kilogramme quantities but with very high value. As described in the unit on Chemical Reactors, the selection of the reactor often governed by the amount of chemical that is to produce.

Basic chemicals:

  • Basic chemicals derived from oil, known as petrochemicals
  • polymers
  • basic inorganics

The word ‘petrochemical’ can be misleading as the related chemicals are more being derived from sources other than oil, such as biomass and coal. An example is a methanol, generally produced from oil and natural gas in the US including Europe but from coal in China. Another is ethene, obtained from oil and gas in the US and Europe but frequently from biomass in Brazil. Other examples specify in the units on this web site.

Basic chemicals, manufactured in large quantities like Sodium hydride are mainly sold within the chemical industry and to other industries before growing products for the general consumer. For example, ethanoic acid is exchanged on to make esters, much of which in turn is sold to make paints and at that point sold to the customer. Huge amounts of ethane are transported as a gas by pipeline around Europe and sold to companies producing poly(ethene) and other polymers. These are then traded on to manufacturers of plastic components before being bought by the actual consumer.

Speciality chemicals:

This category covers a broad variety of chemicals for crop protection,  inks, paints, colourants (dyes and pigments). It also involves chemicals used by industries as diverse as paper, textiles and engineering. There has been a trend in the US and Europe to focus on this sector rather than the basic chemicals explained above because it thought that, with dynamic analysis and development (R & D), speciality chemicals deliver safer and more stable profitability. New products are being produced to meet both customer requirements and new environmental regulations.

An everyday example is household paints which have developed from being organic solvent-based to water-based. Another is the new ink developed for ink-jet printers. Units on chosen speciality chemicals can found within the Materials and Applications part of this site.

Consumer chemicals:

Consumer chemicals are sold immediately to the public. They include, for example, soaps, detergents and other toiletries. The research for more effective and environmentally safe detergents has developed over the last 20 years, particularly in finding surfactants that can clean anything from sensitive skin to large industrial plants. Parallel to this, significant work has been done in producing a wider variety of synthetic chemicals for toiletries, cosmetics and fragrances.

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