When Were Petrochemicals First Manufactured?

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The modern chemical industry dates back to the mid-19th century when scientists in Western Europe began synthesizing chemicals that could be substituted for natural products. The World War I era stimulated the development of the petrochemical industry, with the British extracting benzene and toluene from petroleum.

What Is Made from Petrochemicals?

Products Made from Petrochemicals include plastics, soaps, detergents, solvents (such as paint thinner), paints, drugs, fertilizer, pesticides, explosives, synthetic fibers and rubbers, and flooring and insulating materials. Petrochemicals are found in such common products as aspirin, cars, clothing, compact discs, video tapes, electronic equipment, furniture, and much more.

Chart of Products Made from Petrochemicals

Petrochemical Glossary

Aliphatic – hydrocarbons characterized by a straight- or branched-chain; can include single or multiple bonds. Aliphatics are not cyclic; they do not have a ring structure. The simplest member of this group is methane.
Aromatic – an organic compound characterized by multiple double bonds and a ring structure, like the benzene ring. Aromatics are very stable because the double bonds are conjugated, meaning that the carbon-to-carbon bonds go in a pattern of single bond, then double bond, then single, then double, etc.
Benzene – a colorless, volatile, flammable liquid used extensively in organic chemistry as a base structure to which different atoms and molecular structures can be attached. It is used to make medicine, crop protection chemicals and many other beneficial products. It is also used as a solvent and component in motor fuels.
Ethylene – a colorless, flammable, gas that contains only two carbons that are doubly-bonded to one another. It is one of the most important olefins and used extensively in chemical synthesis and to make many different kinds of plastics, such as the plastic used for water bottles.
Hydrocarbon – broad descriptor pertaining to organic chemicals and are characterized by various carbon and hydrogen molecular structures. Common term used to describe petrochemicals.
Inorganic – not containing the carbons and hydrogens bound together like those found in organic compounds. Class of chemicals that typically exist as salts, acids and alkalines, as well as certain gases and elemental compounds. Carbon dioxide, although it contains a carbon atom, is considered inorganic because of its lack of hydrogens bound to the carbon atom.
Naphthenic – any of various volatile, often flammable, liquid hydrocarbon mixtures characterized by saturated ring structures that are used chiefly as solvents and diluents.
Olefin (aka Alkene) – hydrocarbons characterized by having at least one double bond; specifically, any of a series of open-chain hydrocarbons such as ethylene.
Organic – chemical compounds containing carbon atoms bonded to other carbon atoms, hydrogen atoms or other substitutes for hydrogen (e.g., halogens, sulfur, nitrogen, etc.)
Propylene – a three-carbon, flammable, gaseous molecule containing a double-bond; another important olefin used in organic synthesis. Propylene is also a base chemical to make polypropylene fibers, which are used in high-performance clothing, carpeting and other products.
Synthesis gas – a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen used especially in chemical synthesis to make hydrocarbons.
Toluene – a liquid aromatic hydrocarbon that has a benzene-like structure but is less volatile, flammable, and toxic than benzene. Toluene is used in organic synthesis, as a solvent, and as an antiknock agent for gasoline.
Xylenes – one of the major aromatic feedstocks that is usually obtained from petroleum or natural gas distillates. Xylenes are used in the manufacture of plastics and synthetic fibers, as a solvent and in the blending of gasoline.

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