Industrial Chemical Processes I, Chemistry tutorial


Definition of the chemical industry:

The chemical industry is an industry where its raw materials are differentiated more for their chemical properties than for their mechanical or physical properties. It processes this raw material to higher added value chemical products. The processing may be via increased purity, increased concentration, chemical reactions or by the combination of above.

The chemical industry is basically characterized via the high sophistication of its processes, through advanced automatic controls of plant operations and of products quality, via a high investment per employee, and through high productivity per employee. This is the cause for the necessity of high professional education and capability in the chemical industry.

The chemical industry makes an immense variety of products that impinge on virtually every feature of our lives. Whereas most of the products from the industry, like soaps, detergents and perfumes are purchased directly via the consumer, 70% of chemicals formed are employed to make products via other industries comprising other branches of the chemical industry itself. The industry employs a broad range of raw materials, from air and minerals to oil. By increasing competition globally, innovation remains vital in determining new modes for the industry to satisfy its increasingly sophisticated, demanding and ecologically-conscious consumers.

What does the chemical industry produce?

The products of the chemical industry can be categorized into three groups:

  • Basic chemicals
  • Speciality chemicals
  • Consumer chemicals

1) Basic chemicals:

Basic chemicals are categorized into:

  • Chemicals derived from the oil, termed as petrochemicals
  • Polymers
  • Basic inorganic

The word 'petrochemical' can be confusing as the similar chemicals are increasingly being derived from the sources other than oil, like coal and biomass. An illustration is methanol, generally made up from oil and natural gas in the US and Europe however from coal in China. The other is poly (ethene), derived from oil and gas in the US and Europe however increasingly from biomass in Brazil.

Basic chemicals, formed in large quantities, are mostly sold in the chemical industry and to other industries before becoming products for the general consumer. For illustration, ethanoic acid is sold on to make esters, much of which in turn is sold to form paints and at that point sold to the consumer. Large quantities of ethene are transported as a gas through pipeline around Europe and sold to companies making poly (ethene) and other polymers. These are then sold on to manufacturers of plastic components before being bought via the actual consumer.

i) Ammonia is prepared from natural gas that is imported via pipeline from the North Sea.

ii) Some of the ammonia is utilized to make nitric acid.

iii) Ammonia and nitric acid are employed to prepare the fertilizer and ammonium nitrate.

iv) Ammonia is as well transformed to hydrogen cyanide.

v) Hydrogen cyanide is employed in the procedure to make methyl 2-methylpropenoate, a vital monomer for the manufacture of different acrylic polymers

vi) The stream of 'waste' sulphuric acid and ammonium sulphate from the procedure to make methyl 2-methylpropenoate is transformed to pure sulphuric acid that can then be reused in the procedure.

vii) The tank farm stores imported reactants and products before export.

Petrochemicals and polymers:

The manufacture of chemicals from petroleum (and increasingly from the coal and biomass) has seen numerous technological changes and the growth of very large production sites all through the world. The hydrocarbons in crude oil and gas that are mostly straight chain alkanes are first separated by employing their differences in boiling point. They are then transformed to hydrocarbons which are more helpful to the chemical industry, like branched chain alkanes, alkenes and aromatic hydrocarbons.

In turn, such hydrocarbons are transformed to a very broad range of basic chemicals that are instantly helpful (that is, petrol, ethanol, ethane-1,2-diol) or are subjected to further reactions to produce a helpful end product (for illustration, phenol to prepare resins and ammonia to prepare fertilizers).

The major use for petrochemicals is in the preparation of a broad range of polymers.

Basic inorganics:

These are comparatively low cost chemicals employed all through manufacturing and agriculture. They are manufactured in very huge amounts, some in millions of tons a year, and comprise chlorine, sodium hydroxide, sulphuric and nitric acids and chemicals for fertilizers. As by petrochemicals, various emerging countries are now capable to produce them more economically as compare to companies based in the US and Europe. This has led to hard competition and producers of such chemicals globally work continuously to decrease costs whereas meeting ever more stringent environmental and safety standards.

2) Speciality chemicals:

This group covers a broad variety of chemicals for the crop protection, paints and inks, colorants (that is, dyes and pigments).  It as well comprises chemicals employed via industries as diverse as textiles, paper and engineering.  There has been a propensity in the US and Europe to concentrate on this sector instead of the basic chemicals illustrated above as it is thought that, having active research and development (R & D), specialty chemicals deliver better and more stable profitability. Latest products are being formed to meet up both customer requirements and new ecological regulations. An everyday illustration is household paints that have evolved from being organic solvent-based to being water-based. The other is the newest ink developed for the ink-jet printers.

3) Consumer chemicals:

The consumer chemicals are sold directly to the public. They comprise, for illustration, detergents, soaps and other toiletries. The search for more efficient and environmentally safe detergents has risen over the last 20 years, specifically in determining surfactants which are able of cleaning anything from sensitive skin to big industrial plants.  Parallel to this, much work has been completed in producing a broader range of synthetic chemicals for cosmetics, toiletries and fragrances.

Where are chemical sites located - and why?

The siting of lots of world's major chemical companies might seem arbitrary or puzzling. However, there are very good reasons for the choice of sites, reasons that as well reflect the industrial and consumer landscape of the day.

a) In the beginning - The 19th century:

Primarily sight it seems strange that what are presently the fourth and seventh biggest chemical companies in the world, Dow and DuPont, are placed in two small US cities, Midland, Michigan and Wilmington, Delaware. Though, the reason that Henry Dow established his company at Midland in the year 1897 was due to the salt deposits in the area having specifically high concentrations of bromide ions, and Dow had patented two processes for getting elemental bromine from such deposits.

DuPont's story is more colorful. Eleuthere Irénée (E I) du Pont fled to the United States from the French Revolution. He arrived with substantial experience in manufacturing gunpowder and paid Jacob Broom, a local businessman, $6,740 for a site on the Brandywine River near Wilmington on which to build his very first powder mill in the year 1802. The falling water drove the machinery of the mill and the willow trees on the river-banks were turned to charcoal, one of the three ingredients of gun-powder. The site was far adequate away from the Wilmington in case of explosion however close enough to wharves on the river to ship out the powder. A perfect and completely logical location.

During this time, two great German companies were established - Bayer in the year 1863 and BASF in the year 1865. Bayer's incentive was mainly the river Rhine, a tributary of which ran through the city of Barmen (now part of the city of Wuppertal). There Friedrich Bayer and Johann Friedrich Weskott, one a salesman and the other a master dyer, set up a factory to manufacture the synthetic dyestuffs from coal-tar for the textile industry. The city was close to extensive coal fields, and the Rhine's tributary offered both the source of power and a means of transport.

BASF, such as Bayer, was founded to make dyes however its position was affected by civic utilities and an early example of industrial recycling. In the year 1861 Friedrich Engelhorn made a gasworks in Mannheim and installed the street lighting for the town council. At similar time he seized the opportunity to make use of the by-product, coal-tar, to prepare dyes. The company as well starts to make the other chemicals essential for dye production, particularly alkalis and acids. Engelhorn termed his company Badische Anilin & Soda Fabrik in acknowledgment of the broad range of chemicals it manufactured and of its position in the Grand Duchy of Baden. By the environmental foresight, the city fathers of Mannheim didn't want any pollution of their city and therefore the plant was in reality built across the Rhine at Ludwigshafen.

In the UK the places of much of today's industry as well relate to the 19th century's industrialization. For illustration, the concentration of chemical industry in the Northeast of England was affected by the position of coal mines, the availability of iron ore (that is, for the steel industry) and the closeness to ports. Likewise, the strong chlor-alkali industry (chlorine, sodium hydroxide and sodium carbonate) in the Northwest of England developed due to local coal and salt mines and the proximity of a major canal leading to a major port of England. The great cotton mills in Lancashire provide the obvious location for the dyestuff industry around Manchester, the biggest city in Lancashire.

b) Up to the present - the twentieth and twenty-first centuries:

All of the sites illustrated above are flourishing nowadays, however the companies expanded throughout the subsequent 150 years to make numerous other chemicals ranging from plastics to pharmaceuticals. They have as well added lots of new plants all over the world to be close to their customers.

Nonetheless, precisely the similar range of factors which affected locations in the 19th century is active these days, for illustration:

Access to abundant raw materials water supplies good communications (that is, road, rail and port facilities) closeness the customer for the products reliable energy supplies and the availability of the skilled labor.

One thing which changed throughout the 20th century was the significance of oil and natural gas feedstocks in supporting the rising petrochemical or polymer industry that developed mainly after the year 1945. This illustrates why some installations are sited adjacent to the oil fields. For illustration, there is a cluster of companies adjacent to the oil fields in Texas and the discoveries and growth of gas shale (that is, still a controversial procedure in numerous countries) in places such as Texas, Colorado and Pennsylvania is leading to latest investment in the chemical plants nearby.

Access to the sea for transport remains a big influence. Refineries and chemical companies have been constructing on the coast of various countries, whether they encompass their own indigenous oil and gas or whether they import it.

There are numerous illustrations all along the US coastline of the Gulf of Mexico and in the UK (for illustration at Fawley next to Southampton, Teesside on the east coast of England, at Mossmorran and Grangemouth in the Scotland). Likewise, there are refineries on the coast of mainland Europe, for instance close to Antwerp (Belgium) and Rotterdam (Netherlands). There are even pipelines which join refineries, enabling simple transport of the ethene and in the Belgium and Netherlands and, the propene made by them.

The other illustrations of very large refineries having chemical plants either integrated to them or nearby can be seen in Saudi Arabia (Al-Jubail, which consists of a large chemical complex built close to a deep sea water harbor of Ras Tenura on the east coast close to Bahrain), India (Jamnagar in the Gujarat state on the north west coast) and South Korea (Ulsan on the south-east coast on the Sea of Japan). All three are among the world's largest refineries, Jamnagar in reality being the biggest.

Most of the oil producing countries made a strategic decision not just to sell the crude oil, however as well to participate in the higher added value markets downstream. They start to invest in both refineries and petrochemical plants close to the oil fields in their own countries (main production facilities now exist, for illustration, in Saudi Arabia). Though, these are far away from the real markets for the refined oils and chemicals. As it is cheaper to transport crude oil than to distribute most of its end products around the globe, there is now a trend for oil-producing countries to invest in more far-away refineries and plants, closer to the consumer market. For the meantime, US and European companies are investing heavily in huge refineries and chemical plants in emerging countries, in collaboration by the local chemical companies. For illustration, Shell shares like complex by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) in Daya Bay in the south-east of China and Dow Chemical has linked up by the Saudi Arabian Oil to build a complex at Al- Jubail. This latter investment is huge in the order of E20 billion.

The other main factor finding out location has always been a gainful market for the end products. As the chemical industry is its own biggest customer, it forms good sense to group altogether companies that use chemical products as intermediates in their own manufacturing method. This has led to clusters of plants that successively make use of the output of one method as the input to the other. For illustration, the manufacture of fertilizers, like ammonium nitrate and carbamide (that is, urea), can be found adjacent to ammonia plants which are themselves close to plants having a ready source of raw materials, either methane or naphtha, utilized to make ammonia.

More lately, close proximity to other high technology industries, and also simple airport access, have been influential factors specifically for plants making speciality chemicals.

Chemical industry: how safe and how environmentally regulated?

Safety should be at the top of the chemical industry's plan and for good reason. Most of its products are potentially hazardous at some phase throughout their manufacture and transport. These chemicals might be solids, liquids or gases, corrosive, flammable, explosive and/or toxic. Manufacturing methods often comprise high pressures, high temperatures and reactions that can be dangerous unless cautiously controlled. Due to this the industry operates in the safety limits demanded via national and international legislation.

Risks and injuries:

Despite of dealing by hazardous operations, the chemical industry in reality consists of a lower number of accidents as compare to industry as a whole. Between the year 1995 and 2005, across the whole of European manufacture of all kinds, there were over 4 injuries for each and every 1000 employees twice which sustained in the chemical industry. US data, recorded as days lost because of accidents, exhibit an even starker difference; the number of days lost in main companies in the chemical industry via accidents is four times less than in manufacturing in general.

Environmental regulations:

There are serious concerns regarding the potential impact of certain manufactured chemicals on living organisms, comprising ourselves, and on the natural atmosphere. Such concerns comprise air, land and sea pollution, climate change and global warming, ozone depletion of the upper environment and acid rain.

The chemical industry has a global initiative entitled Responsible Care. It started in Canada in the year 1984 and is practiced now in over 60 countries. This commits national chemical industry associations and companies to:

Constantly enhance the ecological, health, safety and security knowledge and performance of our technologies, methods and products over their life cycles thus as to avoid harm to people and the environment. Use resources proficiently and minimize waste report openly on performance, accomplishments and shortcomings. Listen, engage and work with people to comprehend and address their concerns and expectations. Cooperate with governments and organizations in the growth and implementation of efficient regulations and standards, and to meet up or go beyond them give help and opinion to foster the responsible management of chemicals via all those who manage and utilize them all along the product chain.

What are the challenges for the chemical industry nowadays?

The chemical industry is undergoing vast changes globally. As we have observed above, one concerns the emergence of the Middle Eastern countries and China, India and Brazil as producers of chemicals on a massive scale, for their own utilization and as well for export globally. The companies in such countries are as well investing in plant in the US and Europe even as US and European companies are investing in plant in such large emerging countries, making the industry as a whole completely international in the manner it conducts business. The challenge for companies in the US and Europe is to cut their costs while making sure that they conform to the best practice in protecting the atmosphere.

A new revolution beckons. As the soil and natural gas become ever scarcer and more costly, chemists are searching for the latest feed-stocks to supplement or even substitute oil and natural gas. And they are rediscovering the virtues of coal (still in vast supply, even although it is a fossil fuel which can't be substituted) and biomass.

Therefore we are coming full circle. In the late 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries, the organic chemical industry was largely dependent on coal and biomass. Coal was heated strongly in the absence of air to prepare coal gas (that is, a mixture of hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide). A liquid (that is, coal tar) was made as a by-product that contained numerous helpful organic chemicals, comprising benzene and the solid residue was coke, an impure form of carbon. Coke was the source of what we now termed as synthesis gas. Steam was passed over it at high temperatures to result carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The other source of organic chemicals was biomass. For illustration, the source of numerous C2 chemicals was ethanol, generated via fermentation of biomass. C3 and C4 chemicals like propanone and butanol were as well generated on a large scale through fermentation of biomass.

Since then, from the year 1940 onwards, the industry has found better and better ways of employing the products from the refining of oil to manufacture not merely all the chemicals illustrated above however many more. An illustration is the growth of the petrochemical industry, having the array of latest polymers, detergents and myriad of sophisticated chemicals manufactured at low cost.

Maybe thus the greatest challenge lies in determining ways to decrease our dependence on non-renewable resources. Therefore, as oil and natural gas supplies dwindle, we should determine ways to make use of the older technologies based on the biomass to produce chemicals in as an environmentally acceptable manner as possible, in terms of energy expended and effluents produced. For illustration, some ethene and a range of polymers, and also very large quantities of ethanol, are now being manufactured or prepared from biomass.

The other challenge is reduce our reliance on non-renewable resources to produce energy. The simplest manner to do this is to determine ways to run our chemical plants at lower temperatures by the help of catalysts or employing alternative routes. This has already started in earnest and over the last 20 years, as noted in the last part, the consumption of energy per unit of product has been falling at an average of around 6% in the EU and around 2.5% in the US per year. In effect, the emission of carbon-dioxide has fallen per unit of product via 68% and 40% over the similar time scale.

The latest technologies based on nano-materials will as well be to the forefront in future progress in the chemical industry and it will be significant to make sure that the production of such revolutionary materials is safe and of financial benefit.

The chemical industry has numerous challenges in the 21st century that must be overcome in order to remain at the heart of each and every major country. It is merely through this that the industry can assist society to maintain and enhance its standard of living and do so in a sustainable manner.

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