• Petrochemicals

    What Is a Petrochemical?

    When people hear the term “petrochemical,” they often think of plastics or some other complex product derived from oil. Either that, or they think of petroleum-based solvents like those used in paints and coatings. In the strictest scientific sense, petrochemicals are a set of very specific chemical compounds, which can be made from oil, natural gas, coal or other sources. The vast majority of petrochemicals, however, are derived from oil or natural gas. Oil and natural gas are used as feedstocks (i.e., the main raw material used in the manufacture of a product) to make approximately 99% of U.S. petrochemicals.

    How Are They Produced?

    Many petrochemicals are produced using extreme temperatures (over 1500 ⁰F) and pressures (over 1000 psi). This process requires large amounts of energy and sophisticated engineering. Because of these extreme operating conditions, energy consumption accounts for a significant portion of the total cost of production. As energy costs rise, the cost of doing business also rises. Access to inexpensive and reliable energy sources (such as natural gas) is essential for ensuring the U.S. petrochemical industry remains competitive in an increasingly global marketplace.

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    Key Petrochemicals and Derivatives

    When people hear the term “petrochemical,” they often think of plastics or some other complex product derived from oil. Either that or they think of petroleum-based solvents like those used in paints and coatings. In the strictest scientific sense, petrochemicals are a set of very specific chemical compounds, which can be made from oil, natural gas, coal or other sources. The vast majority of petrochemicals, however, are derived from oil or natural gas. Oil and natural gas are used as feedstocks (i.e., the main raw material used in the manufacture of a product) to make approximately 99% of U.S. petrochemicals.

    The most basic petrochemicals are considered the building blocks for organic chemistry.

    The basic petrochemicals are:

    • Ethylene
    • Propylene
    • Butadiene
    • Benzene
    • Toluene
    • Xylene
     

    From this base set of petrochemicals comes a very large number of other chemicals, which are called, “petrochemical derivatives” or simply, “derivatives.” The derivatives are grouped according to how many steps it takes to convert the basic compound into the new derivative. For example, it takes one step to convert ethylene to acetaldehyde; therefore acetaldehyde can be considered a first-derivative of ethylene. If you go one step further and convert the acetaldehyde to acetic anhydride (which is

    Chart of products made from petrochemicals  

    Petrochemical Facts
  • Petrochemicals make 21st century products possible