What are Petrochemicals? Types and Uses of Petrochemicals -

Learn about petrochemicals. Find and list petrochemicals, petrochemical derivatives, petrochemical equipment and machinery, petrochemical services and petrochemical businesses on Classify24.

What are Petrochemicals? Meaning of Petrochemicals or Definition of Petrochemicals.

Petrochemicals are organic compounds (hydrocarbons) or chemicals gotten from petroleum. These are chemicals that are produced by petrochemical industries from crude oil and natural gas. 

Petrochemical industries are specialized in the production of petrochemicals that have various industrial applications. The petrochemical industry can be likened to  be a sub-sector of  the crude oil industry since without the petroleum industry the petrochemical industry cannot exist. Thus, petroleum is the major prerequisite raw material for the production of petrochemicals either in qualities or quantities. Due to recent researches and advancement in technology, there have been rapid growth and development of petrochemical sectors locally and internationally. The growth and development of petrochemical industries depends on a number of factors and also varies  from one country to another either based on technical know-how, marketability and applicability of these petrochemicals for manufacture of petrochemical products through petrochemical processes which are made feasible by knowledge and application of petrochemistry.

Petrochemistry is a branch of chemistry (chemistry being a branch of natural science concerned with the study of the composition and constitution of substances and the changes such substances undergo because of changes in the molecules that make up such substances)  that deals with petroleum, natural gas and their derivatives.

Types of Petrochemicals, Classification of Petrochemicals or Division of Petrochemicals

Based on chemical composition or chemical structure, petrochemicals can be divided into three (3) groups. These includes olefins, aromatics and synthesis gas .

1. Olefins: Examples of olefins includes ethylene, propylene, and butadiene. Both ethylene and propylene are used in the  industrial production of chemicals, plastics and plastics products while butadiene is used in the industrial production of synthetic rubber.

2.  Aromatics:  Examples of aromatics includes  benzene, toluene, and xylenes. Benzene is used in making  dyes as well as in making  synthetic detergents. A combination of benzene and toluene are used in making isocyanates MDI and TDI both of which are required  in making polyurethanes while xylenes are used in the industrial production of both  plastics and synthetic fibers.

3. Synthesis gas (synthetic gas): This is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen both of which are by chemical processes used in making ammonia and methanol. While ammonia is used in making  fertilizer ( urea ), however methanol is used as a solvent and chemical intermediate.

Hydrocarbons Used In Producing Petrochemicals or Petrochemical Products

Although petroleum contain different types of  hydrocarbons  but not all hydrocarbons are used in producing petrochemicals. Petrochemical analysis has made it possible to identify some major hydrocarbons used in producing petrochemicals. From the lots of hydrocarbons, hydrocarbons serving as major raw materials used by petrochemical industries in the production of petrochemicals are

1. Those obtained from natural gas processing e.g methane, ethane, propane and butane.

2. Those obtained from petroleum refineries e.g naphtha and gas oil.

3.  Those ( e.g  benzene, toluene and xylenes- BTX) obtained  when extracted from reformate through catalysts called catalytic reformers in petroleum refineries.

It should be noted that there are four (4) petrochemical intermediate feedstocks. The four (4) petrochemical intermediates are

1. Ethylene

2. Propylene

3. Butenes and butadiene

4. Benzene


The well-known petrochemicals are ethylene, propylene, benzene and toluene.

Petrochemical Derivatives Obtained From Petrochemical Petrochemical Products

The major petrochemical derivatives  obtained from petrochemical products are as follows:

1. Petrochemical derivatives  obtained from ethylene: these includes polyethylene, ethanol, vinyl acetate, ethylene oxide ( from which you can get ethoxylates, glycol ethers and ethylene glycol from which engine coolant and polyester can be derived) and 1,2-dicloroethane whose derivatives are tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene and vinyl chloride (used in making poly vinyl chloride).

2. Petrochemical derivatives  obtained from propylene: these includes isopropyl alcohol, acrylonitrile, polypropylene, propylene oxide ( from which polyol, propylene glycol and glycol ethers are derived), acrylic acid (from which acrylic polymers are obtained) and allyl chloride from which epichlorohydrin is obtained and epoxy resins are obtained from epichlorohydrin.

3. Petrochemical derivatives  obtained from toluene: these are benzene, toluene diisocyanate (from which polyurethanes are obtained) and benzoic acid from which caprolactum is obtained and nylons are derived or made from caprolactum.

4. Petrochemical derivatives  obtained from xylenes: these are meta-xylene from which isophthalic is obtained (derivatives from  isophthalic are alkyde resins, polyamide resins and unsaturated esters), para-xylene from which dimethyl terephthalate and terephthalic acids are obtained. Polyesthers are obtained from both dimethyl terephthalate and terephthalic acids.

5. Petrochemical derivatives  obtained from benzene: these includes chlorobenzenes, alkyl benzene used in making detergents, nitrobenzene (aniline from which methylene diphenyl diisocynate is obatined but polyurethanes are obtained from methylene diphenyl diisocynate), cyclohexane (from which adipic acid and caprolactumused in making nylons are obtained), cumene (from which solvents, polyphenols and are obtained plus bisphenol A from which epoxy resins and polycarbonate are obtained) and ethyl benzene from which styrene used in making poly styrenes are obtained.

Uses of Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals being chemicals obtained from petroleum can be used in making the following which are but not limited to fertilizers, polymers, solvents, dyes, pesticides, detergents, cosmetics, etc.

Petrochemical Industries

Without doubt, it should be noted from the subject of discussion that petrochemical industries, petrochemical products and petrochemical derivatives are  very important to countries that are able to harness petrochemicals. Also,  it is worth mentioning that without the oil and gas industries the petrochemical industries will be non-existent. Petrochemicals contribute to  the economic development of countries that have the capacities in terms of technology and marketability. Petrochemicals are useful in agricultural industries, food industries, pharmaceutical industries, technology industries, and others too numerous to mention. Apart from the job creation capacity of the petrochemical industries, the petrochemical sector is full of  direct and indirect business opportunities or investment opportunities.

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