Encyclopedia of Earth and Physical Sciences - Vol. 9

By Joyce Tavolacci | Go to book overview

PETROCHEMICALS

Petrochemicals are chemicals derived from petroleum sources—crude oil and natural gas

An agricultural helicopter
sprays a crop. Pesticides,
like many other important
everyday products,
are derived from
petrochemicals.

Petrochemicals are chemicals derived from petroleum sources—crude oil and natural gas (see NATURAL GAS; OIL). These fossil fuels are invaluable sources of hydrocarbons (substances whose molecules consist of carbon and hydrogen atoms; see HYDROCARBONS). Petrochemicals are a fundamental building block for countless everyday products, including solvents, plastics, paints, synthetic rubbers, textiles, fertilizers, pesticides, food additives, drugs, detergents, cosmetics, dyes, and fuel additives. Their importance is shown by the fact that over 90 percent by weight of organic materials presently produced are derived from oil and natural gas. This dominance of petroleum sources as organic chemical feedstocks is relatively recent, however: in 1950, coal, not petrochemicals, contributed around half of organic feedstock.

The value of hydrocarbon compounds lies in the enormous range of molecular structures that can be built by the formation of long chains and rings of carbon atoms. Thus, crude oil, which already contains carbon chain and ring compounds, is a much more flexible source of petrochemicals than natural gas. Natural gas consists mostly of methane (CH4) and the chains of carbon—carbon bonds have to be built.

Nevertheless, natural gas is an important source for the petrochemical industry (see INDUSTRIAL CHEMISTRY). Steam reforming of the gas is a largescale undertaking, which is used to produce synthesis gas (syngas), a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (see CARBON; HYDROGEN).

Syngas is an important intermediate product, for example, in fertilizer production, in which ammonia is synthesized by the high-temperature, high-pressure Haber process (see NITROGEN AND NITROGEN CYCLE).

CORE FACTS
Petrochemicals are a fundamental building block for
countless everyday products, including solvents, paints,
rubbers, textiles, fertilizers, pesticides, food additives,
drugs, detergents, cosmetics, and dyes.
The petrochemical industry has depended on the
availability of petroleum, but it is likely that other
sources—such as coal and biomass—will play
a more important role in the future.
Commodity petrochemicals include many types
of plastics.
CONNECTIONS
Ninety percent of
crude OIL is used
to make fuel; the
remainder forms
the petrochemical
feedstock.
The most important
application of
POLYMERS
is in
PLASTICS production.

-1194-

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Encyclopedia of Earth and Physical Sciences - Vol. 9
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 1153
  • Contents 1155
  • Paleontology 1157
  • Paleozoic Era 1163
  • Pangaea 1165
  • Particle Accelerators 1167
  • Particle Physics 1169
  • Pcbs 1175
  • Pennsylvanian Period 1177
  • Periodic Table 1181
  • Permafrost 1186
  • Permian Period 1188
  • Petrochemicals 1194
  • Phase Transitions 1200
  • Phenols 1202
  • Phosphorus 1204
  • Photoelectric Effect 1206
  • Photography 1208
  • Physical Chemistry 1214
  • Physics 1218
  • Piezoelectricity 1226
  • Planet X 1228
  • Plasma 1229
  • Plastics 1230
  • Plate Tectonics 1236
  • Platinum Metals 1241
  • Pluto 1243
  • Plutonium 1245
  • Polarity 1247
  • Polarization 1249
  • Polar Regions 1252
  • Pollution 1255
  • Polymers 1259
  • Precambrian 1263
  • Precipitation 1266
  • Proteins 1269
  • Proterozoiceon 1271
  • Protons 1274
  • Pulsars 1276
  • Purines and Pyrimidines 1278
  • Quantum Theory 1280
  • Quarks 1287
  • Quartz 1291
  • Quasars 1293
  • Index 1295
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