The petrochemical industry serves many more purposes than producing fuel for vehicles or power plants. Refineries access the molecular profile of raw petroleum products to acquire a variety of new chemical substances essential for many manufacturing processes. Petrochemicals are highly valued due to their ability to improve the performance of synthetic materials from plastic packaging to the fibers found in furniture upholstery.
Natural Gas And Crude Oil
Wells that extract crude oil or natural gas from the ground send these commodities to refineries. These facilities apply heat and pressure to the raw materials to extract or distill natural gas liquids and naphtha from crude oil. These substances serve as feedstocks for petrochemical manufacturing. The International Energy Agency reports that 12% of the output from oil and gas drilling goes toward meeting the demand for these feedstocks.
These feedstocks are consumed by more specialized refineries called crackers. These facilities bear this name because they crack the molecules of the feedstocks to collect petrochemical substances classified as olefins, aromatics, or synthetic gases. These three groups are then further broken down to produce six basic petrochemical components: ethylene, propylene, benzene, butylene, toluene, and xylene.
Paint And Ink Manufacturing
Ethylene and toluene contribute to the manufacturing of many paints and inks. Ethylene is converted to solvents. Paint manufacturers use solvents in their formulas because these liquids ensure even distribution of pigments throughout the solution. Solvents also aid with consistency so that the paint spreads easily and applies color smoothly.
In ink manufacturing, toluene is often used as a solvent because it is affordable. All paint and ink manufacturers have an interest in controlling costs. Fortunately, there are processes that allow them to reuse solvents and thereby reduce the need to continually acquire fresh supplies.
Plastic products are pervasive throughout global society. The majority of plastics are derived from naphtha feedstock. The refined substances of benzene, ethylene, and xylene are used to make plastic. Plastic producers construct large molecules from these petrochemicals and carbon to form polymers. These polymers are then molded into various plastic products, like food packages, clear plastic wrap, or medical devices.
Petrochemicals are hydrocarbon molecules that can be converted into many types of organic molecules. Although many pharmaceuticals contain medicinal ingredients collected from plants or fungi, the manufacture of the medication itself involves petrochemicals. They are used to purify medicinal substances and build stable formulations for tablets and solutions.
Fertilizer And Pesticides
Natural gas is a vital component of the global industrial agriculture system. Fertilizer plants use natural gas to supply power for fertilizer production and as a feedstock for the fertilizer itself. The process combines the hydrocarbon with nitrogen from the atmosphere to create ammonium nitrate and urea. These nitrogen-rich substances are then combined with phosphorus and potassium to form a balanced nutrient supplement for plants.
Industrial agriculture also depends on petrochemicals to manufacture pesticides that kill unwanted insects or weeds. A pesticide contains the active poisonous material and inert ingredients that assist with application. Scientists have developed a range of hydrocarbon molecules refined from petroleum that are lethal to crop pests.
Solar Panels And Wind Turbines
Energy harvested from the sun and wind is seen as less polluting than using oil and gas for energy. Although this is true, petrochemical products still support the goal of eliminating air pollution from energy production.
Solar panel makers use polyisobutylenes to seal the edges of the layered materials forming the solar panel. Additionally, a polyester film forms the bottom layer of the panel. The layers that secure the energy-producing silicon layer are also constructed of copolymer ethylene-vinyl acetate.
Wind generators contain petrochemical products in both the blades and turbine. Polyester and vinyl ester resins bond the halves of the blades together. Inside the turbine engine, the rotor blades are made from polyester resins produced from ethylene.