Almost everything we use today needs chemical products, used in one way or the other. Chemical products are utilised in almost every industrial process involved with manufacturing various types of consumer goods. While many of these chemical industry products are bought directly by the consumer, 70% of chemicals manufactured are used to make other valuable products by other industries. These chemical industries use a wide range of raw materials, from air and minerals to oil. The most important chemical companies today are from the United States and European Union. Their chemical production is calculated to be a $3 trillion global enterprise. The chemical industry sales can be divided in a few broad categories like basic chemicals with around 40% of output, life sciences 30%, specialty chemicals 20% and customer products 10%.
Basic chemicals include petrochemicals, polymers, reaction intermediates, inorganic chemicals and fertilizers. The polymers and plastics are used for construction pipes, tools, materials like acrylics, appliances, electronic devices, toys, games, transportation, packing, clothing and textiles like nylon and polyester, among many other products. Polymers come from petrochemical raw materials like natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and crude oil or petroleum. Petrochemicals are also used for producing other organic chemicals and well as specialty chemicals.
Other basic industrial chemicals include synthetic rubber, pigments, resins, explosives and rubber products. Inorganic chemicals belong to the oldest chemical categories, and include daily products like chlorine, salt, soda ash, acids like phosphoric, nitric, and sulfuric acids, caustic soda and hydrogen peroxide, which are vital for several industries. Fertilizers belong to the minor category of basic chemical industry and include ammonia, phosphates and potash.
There have been remarkable changes in the chemical industry over the last decade, not only in Europe and in the US but particularly in China, India, the rest of Asia and Brazil. With escalating competition worldwide, novelty remains crucial in finding new ways for the chemicals market to fulfill its increasingly urbane, demanding and environmentally-conscious consumers’ needs.
Although time-consuming, research and development is crucial to the evolution of chemical industry. To remain competitive, players in chemical industry must find new products which improve the quality of life of consumers, suit the changes in consumer demand around the world and produce and sell chemicals in bulk in order to achieve economies of scale. It is essential for the chemical companies to have an access to the cheapest raw materials, energy efficient processes for making chemicals in order to use less capital expenditure and save the raw materials. With the dire need to save our planet from pollutants, chemical industry also needs to find methods of manufacturing that utilise and dispose chemicals in a way that does not harm the environment.