What Are Some Examples of Petrochemicals?

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Petrochemicals are organic chemicals made from crude oil and natural gas for use in industrial processes. Examples of primary petrochemicals include methanol, ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene and xylene. Roughly five percent of the world’s annual oil supply is utilized to make petrochemicals. These organic substances are used to make plastics, medicines, furniture, appliances, solar panels, PVC pipes, bulletproof vests, consumer electronics, wind turbines and automobile parts.

Primary petrochemicals go through chemical processes to make more complicated organic chemicals that go into producing various items. Methanol converts to formaldehyde and acetic acid, which go into making plastics, fibers, adhesives and paper products. Ethylene makes ethanol, polyethylene resins, ethylene oxide and ethylbenzene. These ethylene-based petrochemicals produce items such as plastics, coolants, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Propylene makes Styrofoam, butadiene contributes to synthetic rubber, and benzene produces the synthetic fiber nylon.

The most important process with regards to petrochemicals is polymerization. This process makes longer chains of organic molecules that form stiffer materials, such as plastic, paper and synthetic fibers. These chemical reactions take simple hydrocarbon molecules to make more complex ones in consumer products. The petrochemical industry is responsible for 1.4 million American jobs, of which 214,000 people are employed at petrochemical plants.