Petrochemicals  Elmhurst College
 Chemistry Department
   Virtual ChemBook


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Oil to Petrochemicals

Overview of the Chemical Petrochemicals Industry:
 
Petrochemicals are chemicals made from petroleum (crude oil) and natural gas. Petroleum and natural gas are made up of hydrocarbon molecules, which are comprised of one or more carbon atoms, to which hydrogen atoms are attached.

Currently, oil and gas are the main sources of the raw materials because they are the least expensive, most readily available, and can be processed most easily into the primary petrochemicals listed on the left.

Only about five percent of the oil and gas consumed each year is needed to make all the petrochemical products.
Petrochemicals have had a dramatic impact on our food, clothing, shelter and leisure. Some synthetics, tailored for particular uses, actually perform better than products made by nature because of their unique properties.
 
Primary Petrochemicals:
 
"Primary Petrochemicals" include: olefins (ethylene, propylene and butadiene) aromatics (benzene, toluene, and xylenes); and methanol.
 
Olefins are unsaturated molecules of carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) that appear as short chains, of two, three or four carbons in length.
Aromatics contain a six carbon ring structure. The oxygen/hydrogen (OH) group in methanol denotes that it is an alcohol.
 
Graphics and Text Adapted from: Canadian Chemical Producers' Association (CCPA)


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Intermediates and Derivatives:
 
Petrochemical intermediates are generally produced by chemical conversion of primary petrochemicals to form more complicated derivative products (see graphic on the left).

Petrochemical derivative products can be made in a variety of ways: directly from primary petrochemicals; through intermediate products which still contain only carbon and hydrogen; and, through intermediates which incorporate chlorine, nitrogen or oxygen in the finished derivative. In some cases, they are finished products; in others, more steps are needed to arrive at the desired composition.

Of all the processes used, one of the most important is polymerization. It is used in the production of plastics, fibers and synthetic rubber, the main finished petrochemical derivatives.
Some typical petrochemical intermediates are:
vinyl acetate for paint, paper and textile coatings
vinyl chloride for polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
resin manufacture
ethylene glycol for polyester textile fibers
styrene which is important in rubber and plastic manufacturing.

 
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Major End Use Products:

Some typical petrochemical intermediates are:
- vinyl acetate for paint, paper and textile coatings vinyl chloride for
- polyvinyl chloride PVC)
- resin manufacture
- ethylene glycol for polyester - textile fibers
- styrene which is important in rubber and plastic manufacturing.