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What Are Petrochemicals, Exactly?

Petrochemical Industry

At Mark Tool & Rubber, we provide a variety of rubber and urethane products, including our famous SplashTRON®. Essential in the making of these products are substances called petrochemicals. Derived from natural gas and oil, the applications of these chemicals certainly aren’t limited to our products. From fertilizer to plastics, petrochemicals are found in almost everything we use today. If you keep on reading, you’ll learn how petrochemicals are extracted, and how they’re used throughout the industry.The Petrochemical Process

American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers explains that petrochemicals are like building blocks, raw materials used to create everyday products. Obtaining these building blocks, however, starts with natural gas and oil. Hydrocarbons like butane, ethane and propane need to be separated from the gas and oil.

Fortunately, each hydrocarbon has its own boiling point. If the entire resource is vaporized and then cooled, each hydrocarbon will condense once the temperature falls below its respective boiling point. This is done by using a distillation column, and is a part of the oil refining process. The BBC explains that the heated resource is fed into the bottom of the tank where it will then rise. The tank’s temperature cools as the vapor rises, allowing different hydrocarbons to condense at different levels.

In some cases large-chain hydrocarbons need to be broken down. Chemguide explains that this process, called cracking, can be done in two different ways:

-Catalytic Cracking: Process by which catalysts are used along with extreme heat to aid in the breaking down of hydrocarbons.

-Thermal Cracking: Process by which extreme heat and pressure is used to break down hydrocarbons.

How Are Petrochemicals Used?

Petroleum Online explains that after the petrochemicals are extracted, they are converted into chemically complex products called intermediates. These are then converted into basic plastics and resins (Total explains that 99% of all plastics come from oil and gas). Finally, these basics are used to create finalized consumer products.

It’s incredible to think that so many products used today contain petrochemicals. While the list could go on, sites like APFM and Gas Oil Energy Magazine list some common, everyday uses:

-Consumer Electronics (e.g. air conditioners, computers, cell phones)

-Fertilizers and Pesticides

-Food and Beverage Packaging

-Home Products (e.g. candles, detergent)

-Medicine (e.g. aspirin, hand sanitizer)

The Petrochemical Industry Today

According to the IHS Chemical Economics Handbook, globalization has significantly affected the petrochemical industry today. Forward and backward integration is the norm, as is the construction of large petrochemical plants to obtain economies of scale. Emerging regions like China, Latin America and the Middle East are facing increasing demands for goods that require petrochemicals. Developments in drilling techniques like fracking have led to an increase in natural gas production in the United States. However, concerns over fracking and fossil fuel consumption has led to a global rise in legislation passed that will affect how production will continue in the future.

Petrochemicals are found in almost everything we use today. It’s easy to take them for granted, just like many of the other things that we can’t see with our naked eye. Yet in the background of our daily lives is an industry dedicated to the complex processes of extracting and converting them into the products we love. Indeed, if not for the growing worldwide petrochemical industry, Mark Tool & Rubber wouldn’t be around!

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