The Chemical Industry-An Overview, Chemistry tutorial


The chemical industry makes an enormous variety of products that impose on virtually each and every feature of our lives. As most of the products from the industry, like soaps, detergents and perfumes, are purchased directly through the consumer, 70 percent of chemicals prepared are used to make products through 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.

However the chemical industry might be illustrated simply as the industry which employs chemistry and manufactures chemicals, this statement is not overall satisfactory as it leaves open the question of 'what is a chemical'? The definitions accepted for statistical financial purposes differ from country to country. As well the Standard International Trade Classification, published by the United Nations, comprises explosives and pyrotechnic products as part of its chemicals segment. However the categorization doesn't comprise the man-made fibres, however the preparation of the raw materials for these fibres is as chemical as any branch of manufacture could be.

With the increasing competition globally, innovation remains crucial in finding out new ways for the industry to assure its increasingly sophisticated, demanding and ecologically-conscious consumers.


The chemical industries can be outlined back to Middle Eastern artisans, who refined limestone and alkali for the production of glass as early as 7,000 B.C., to the Phoenicians who formed soap in the sixth cent. B.C., and to the Chinese who made black powder, a primitive explosive around the tenth cent. A.D. In the middle Ages, alchemists formed small amounts of chemicals and by the year 1635 the Pilgrims in Massachusetts were producing saltpeter for gunpowder and chemicals for tanning. However, large-scale chemical industries first developed in the 19th century. In the year 1823, British entrepreneur James Muspratt started mass producing soda ash (required for soap and glass) by using a method developed by Nicolas Leblanc in the year 1790. Advances in the organic chemistry in the last half of the 19th century permitted companies to form synthetic dyes from coal tar for the textile industry as early as in the year 1850.

In the year 1890, German companies started mass producing sulphuric acid and, at around the same time, chemical companies started utilizing the electrolytic process that required large amounts of electricity and salt, to make caustic soda and chlorine. Man-made fibers modified the textile industry when rayon (which is made up from the wood fibers) was introduced in the year 1914; the introduction of synthetic fertilizers through the American Cyanamid Company in the year 1909 led to a green revolution in agriculture which dramatically enhanced the crop yields. Progress in the manufacture of plastics led to the invention of celluloid in the year 1869 and the creation of such products as nylon through Du Pont in the year 1928. Research in organic chemistry in the year 1910 allowed companies in the 1920s and 30s to start producing chemicals for oil. Nowadays, petrochemicals made up from oil are the industry's biggest sector. Synthetic rubber came into existence throughout the World War II, when the war cut off supplies of rubber from the Asia.

The complex characteristics of the chemical industry:

The scope of the chemical industry is in the part shaped via custom instead of by logic. The petroleum industry is generally thought of as separate from the chemical industry, for in the early days of the petroleum industry in the nineteenth century crude oil was simply subjected to the simple distillation treatment. Modern petroleum industrial methods, though, bring around chemical changes, and a few of the products of a modern refinery complex are chemicals via any definition. The word petrochemical is employed to illustrate these chemical operations, however, as they are frequently carried out at the similar plant as the primary distillation, the difference among petroleum industry and chemical industry is hard to maintain.

Metals in a sense are chemicals as they are generated by chemical means, the ores at times requiring chemical processes of dressing before refining; the refining procedure as well comprises chemical reactions. Such metals as lead, steel, copper and zinc are generated in reasonably pure form and are later fabricated to helpful shapes. Yet the steel industry, for illustration, is not considered a part of the chemical industry. In modern metallurgy, these metals as titanium, tantalum and tungsten are generated by methods comprising great chemical skill, yet they are still categorized as primary metals.

The limitations of the chemical industry, then, are rather confused. Its key raw materials are the fossil fuels (that is, coal, natural gas and petroleum), air, salt, water, limestone, sulphur or an equivalent, and some specialized raw materials for the special products, like phosphates and the mineral fluorspar. The chemical industry transforms such raw materials into primary, secondary, and tertiary products, a difference based on the remoteness of the product from the consumer, the primary being remotest. The products are most frequently end products only as regards the chemical industry itself; the main feature of the chemical industry is that its products nearly for all time need further processing before reaching the final consumer.

Therefore, paradoxically, the chemical industry is its own best customer. The average chemical product is passed from factory to factory some times before it emerges from the chemical industry to the market.

There are numerous routes to the similar product and many uses for the similar product. The biggest use for ethylene glycol, for illustration, is as automobile antifreeze; however it is as well employed as a hydraulic brake fluid. Further processing leads to numerous derivatives which are employed as additives in the textile, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries; as emulsifiers in the application of fungicides and insecticides; and as demulsifiers for the petroleum. The basic chemicals, like chlorine or sulphuric acid, are used in numerous ways as to challenge a comprehensive listing.

Due to the competitiveness in the chemical industry and among the chemicals, the chemical industry spends huge amounts on research, specifically in the highly industrialized countries. The percentage of revenue spent on research differs from one branch to the other; companies specializing in large-volume products that have been broadly utilized for many years spend less, while competition in the newer fields can be met just by intensive research efforts.

What does the chemical industry produce?

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

  • Basic chemicals
  • Speciality chemicals
  • Consumer chemicals

I) Basic chemicals:

Basic chemicals are categorized into:

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

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

Fundamental chemicals, made in big 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 make paints and at that point sold to the consumer. Vast quantities of ethene are transported as a gas through pipeline around Europe and sold to companies making polyethene and other polymers. These are then sold on to the manufacturers of plastic components before being bought through the actual consumer.

a) Ammonia is manufactured from the natural gas that is imported through pipeline from the North Sea.

b) A few ammonia is employed to manufacture nitric acid.

c) Ammonia and nitric acid are utilized to prepare the fertilizer, ammonium nitrate

d) Ammonia is as well changed into hydrogen cyanide.

e) Hydrogen cyanide is utilized in the procedure to make methyl 2-methylpropenoate, a main monomer for the manufacture of different acrylic polymers

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

g) The tank farm stores imported reactants and products former to export.

Petrochemicals and polymers:

The manufacture of chemicals from petroleum (and more and more from coal and biomass) has seen lots of 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 using their differences in the 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 fundamental chemicals that are immediately 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 make resins and ammonia to make fertilizers). The main utilization for petrochemicals is in the manufacture of a broad range of polymers.

II) Speciality chemicals:

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

III) 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, principally in finding surfactants which are capable of cleaning anything from sensitive skin to big industrial plants. Parallel to this, much work has been done in producing a broader range of synthetic chemicals for cosmetics toiletries and fragrances.

Economic aspects:

In most of the fields, the United States is the biggest producer of chemicals. Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, France and some other European countries are as well large producers, and so is the Soviet Union. Japan in the year 1960 came to fame as a very large producer in some areas. Investment in the chemical industry as a percentage of net investment in a given country might range from 5 to 15 % for the less-developed countries; for the industrial countries it averages around 6 to 8 %. For a few developing countries this percentage can fluctuate broadly; for illustration, the installation of one sizable fertilizer factory could alter the percentage markedly in the specific country.

Early in the 20th century there was a clear difference between economies which were based on coal as a fossil fuel and those based on the petroleum. Coal was nearly the unique source of the aromatic hydrocarbons. Two forces, though, have worked altogether to change this situation. First, aromatics can now as well be obtained from the petroleum, and certainly all hydrocarbon raw materials are now nearly interchangeable; second, modern transportation technology makes possible very large-scale shipments through sea not only of petroleum, crude or in different phases of refinement, however as well of natural gas, refrigerated and condensed to the liquid.

The statistics from the chemical industry as a whole can be misleading due to the practice of lumping altogether such products as cheap sulphuric acid and costly dyes or fibres; comprised in some compilations are toiletries and cosmetics, the value of which per pound might be artificially high. The statistics of chemical industries from various countries might encompass different bases of computation; in fact the basis might change from time to time in the same country. The additional source of confusion is that in certain cases the production is quoted not in tons of the product itself however in tons of the content of the significant component.

For the purpose of simplicity, different divisions of the chemical industry, like heavy inorganic and organic chemicals and different families of end products, will be illustrated in turn and separately, though it must be borne in mind that they interact continuously. The first division to be illustrated is the heavy inorganic chemicals, beginning at the historical beginning of the chemical industry by the Leblanc method. The terms heavy chemical industry and light chemical industry, though, are not precisely exclusive, as many operations fall somewhere among the two classes. The two classes do, though, at their extremes correlate by other differences. For instance, the appearance of two types of plants is characteristically dissimilar. The large-scale chemical plant is characterized through large pieces of equipment of odd shapes and sizes standing immobile and independent of one other. Long rows of distilling columns are prominent, however, as the material being processed is generally confined in pipes or vessels, no very discernible activity occurs. Some personnel are in proof.

The light chemical industry is totally different. It comprises lots of different pieces of equipment of moderate size, frequently of stainless steel or lined by glass or enamel. This equipment is housed in buildings such as those for, state, assembling the light machinery. Many personnel are present. Both kinds of plant need huge amounts of capital.

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