Chemical Industry

The chemical industry comprises the companies that produce industrial chemicals. Central to the modern world economy, it converts raw materials (oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals) into more than 70,000 different products. The plastics industry contains some overlap, as most chemical companies produce plastic as well as other chemicals.

Chemical Industry

Chemical Industry (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

Chemical Industry (Rotterdam, Netherlands)

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Chemische Industrie

One of the first chemicals to be produced in large amounts through industrial processes was sulfuric acid. In 1736, the pharmacist Joshua Ward developed a process for its production that involved heating saltpeter, allowing the sulfur to oxidize and combine with water.
Soda ash was used since ancient times in the production of glass, textile, soap, and paper, and the source of the potash had traditionally been wood ashes in Western Europe. By the 18th century, this source was becoming uneconomical due to deforestation, and the French Academy of Sciences offered a prize of 2400 livres for a method to produce alkali from sea salt (sodium chloride). The Leblanc process was patented in 1791 by Nicolas Leblanc who then built a Leblanc plant at Saint-Denis.
However, it was in Britain that the Leblanc process really took off. James Muspratt’s chemical works in Liverpool and Charles Tennant’s complex near Glasgow became the largest chemical production centres anywhere. By the 1870s, the British soda output of 200,000 tons annually exceeded that of all other nations in the world combined. These huge factories began to produce a greater diversity of chemicals as the Industrial Revolution matured.

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The scale of chemical manufacturing tends to be organized from largest in volume (petrochemicals and commodity chemicals), to specialty chemicals, and the smallest, fine chemicals.
The petrochemical and commodity chemical manufacturing units are on the whole single product continuous processing plants. Not all petrochemical or commodity chemical materials are made in one single location, but groups of related materials often are to induce industrial symbiosis as well as material, energy and utility efficiency and other economies of scale.
Those chemicals made on the largest of scales are made in a few manufacturing locations around the world, for example in Texas and Louisiana along the Gulf Coast of the United States, on Teesside in the Northeast of England in the United Kingdom, and in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The large scale manufacturing locations often have clusters of manufacturing units that share utilities and large scale infrastructure such as power stations, port facilities, road and rail terminals.

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