Editorial May 2022 Chemical Industry in a nutshell

Rajiv Parikh

18 May 2022

The chemical industry comprises the companies that produce industrial chemicals. Central to the modern world economy, it converts raw materials (oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals) into more than 70,000 different products. The plastics industry contains some overlap, as some chemical companies produce plastics as well as chemicals.

Polymers and plastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene and polycarbonate comprise about 80% of the industry's output worldwide. These materials are often converted to fluoropolymer tubing products and used by the industry to transport highly corrosive materials. Chemicals are used in many different consumer goods, and are also used in many different
sectors. This includes agriculture manufacturing, construction, and service industries. Major industrial customers include rubber and plastic products, textiles, apparel, petroleum refining, pulp and paper, and primary metals. Chemicals are nearly a $3 trillion global enterprise, and the EU and U.S. chemical companies are the world's largest producers.

Sales of the chemical business can be divided into a few broad categories, including basic chemicals (about 35% - 37% of dollar output), life sciences (30%), specialty chemicals (20% - 25%) and consumer products (about 10%).

Basic chemicals, or "commodity chemicals" are a broad chemical category including polymers, bulk petrochemicals and intermediates, other derivatives and basic industrials, inorganic chemicals, and fertilizers.

Polymers are the largest revenue segment and includes all categories of plastics and man-made fibers. The major markets for plastics are packaging, followed by home construction, containers, appliances, pipe, transportation, toys, and games. The largest-volume polymer product, polyethylene (PE), is used mainly in packaging films and other markets such as milk bottles, containers, and pipe.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), another large-volume product, is principally used to make piping for construction markets as well as siding and, to a much smaller extent, transportation and packaging materials.

Polypropylene (PP), similar in volume to PVC, is used in markets ranging from packaging, appliances, and containers to clothing and carpeting.

Polystyrene (PS), another large-volume plastic, is used principally for appliances and packaging as well as toys and recreation.

The leading man-made fibers include polyester, nylon, polypropylene, and acrylics, with applications including apparel, home furnishings, and other industrial and consumer use. Principal raw materials for polymers are bulk petrochemicals like ethylene, propylene and benzene.

Petrochemicals and intermediate chemicals are primarily made from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas and crude oil fractions. Large volume products include ethylene, propylene, benzene, toluene, xylenes, methanol, vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), styrene, butadiene, and ethylene oxide. These basic or commodity chemicals are the starting materials used to manufacture many polymers and other more complex organic chemicals particularly those that are made for use in the specialty chemicals category.

Other derivatives and basic industrials include synthetic rubber, surfactants, dyes and pigments, turpentine, resins, carbon black, explosives, and rubber products and contribute about 20 percent of the basic chemicals' external sales.

Inorganic chemicals (about 12% of the revenue output) make up the oldest of the chemical categories. Products include salt, chlorine, caustic soda, soda ash, acids (such as nitric acid, phosphoric acid, and sulfuric acid), titanium dioxide, and hydrogen peroxide. [Part 1]

 

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