Chemical product derived from petroleum
Petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia

Petrochemicals (sometimes abbreviated as petchems[1]) are the chemical products obtained from petroleum by refining. Some chemical compounds made from petroleum are also obtained from other fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, or renewable sources such as maize, palm fruit or sugar cane.

The two most common petrochemical classes are olefins (including ethylene and propylene) and aromatics (including benzene, toluene and xylene isomers).

Oil refineries produce olefins and aromatics by fluid catalytic cracking of petroleum fractions. Chemical plants produce olefins by steam cracking of natural gas liquids like ethane and propane. Aromatics are produced by catalytic reforming of naphtha. Olefins and aromatics are the building-blocks for a wide range of materials such as solvents, detergents, and adhesives. Olefins are the basis for polymers and oligomers used in plastics, resins, fibers, elastomers, lubricants, and gels.[2][3]

Global ethylene production was 190 million tonnes and propylene was 120 million tonnes in 2019.[4] Aromatics production is approximately 70 million tonnes. The largest petrochemical industries are located in the USA and Western Europe; however, major growth in new production capacity is in the Middle East and Asia. There is substantial inter-regional petrochemical trade.

Primary petrochemicals are divided into three groups depending on their chemical structure:

In 2007, the amounts of ethylene and propylene produced in steam crackers were about 115 Mt (megatonnes) and 70 Mt, respectively.[8] The output ethylene capacity of large steam crackers ranged up to as much as 1.0 – 1.5 Mt per year.[9]

The adjacent diagram schematically depicts the major hydrocarbon sources and processes used in producing petrochemicals.[2][3][10][11]

Petrochemical feedstock sources

Like commodity chemicals, petrochemicals are made on a very large scale. Petrochemical manufacturing units differ from commodity chemical plants in that they often produce a number of related products. Compare this with specialty chemical and fine chemical manufacture where products are made in discrete batch processes.

Petrochemicals are predominantly made in a few manufacturing locations around the world, for example in Jubail & Yanbu Industrial Cities in Saudi Arabia, Texas & Louisiana in the US, in Teesside in the Northeast of England in the United Kingdom, in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, in Jamnagar, Dahej in Gujarat, India and in Singapore. Not all of the petrochemical or commodity chemical materials produced by the chemical industry are made in one single location but groups of related materials are often made in adjacent manufacturing plants to induce industrial symbiosis as well as material and utility efficiency and other economies of scale. This is known in chemical engineering terminology as integrated manufacturing. Specialty and fine chemical companies are sometimes found in similar manufacturing locations as petrochemicals but, in most cases, they do not need the same level of large-scale infrastructure (e.g., pipelines, storage, ports, and power, etc.) and therefore can be found in multi-sector business parks.

The large scale petrochemical manufacturing locations have clusters of manufacturing units that share utilities and large scale infrastructures such as power stations, storage tanks, port facilities, road and rail terminals. In the United Kingdom, for example, there are 4 main locations for such manufacturing: near the River Mersey in North West England, on the Humber on the East coast of Yorkshire, in Grangemouth near the Firth of Forth in Scotland, and in Teesside as part of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC). To demonstrate the clustering and integration, some 50% of the United Kingdom's petrochemical and commodity chemicals are produced by the NEPIC industry cluster companies in Teesside.


In 1835, Henri Victor Regnault, a French chemist left vinyl chloride in the sun and found white solid at the bottom of the flask which was polyvinyl chloride. In 1839, Eduard Simon discovered polystyrene by accident by distilling storax. In 1856, William Henry Perkin discovered the first synthetic dye, Mauveine. In 1888, Friedrich Reinitzer, an Austrian plant scientist observed cholesteryl benzoate had two different melting points. In 1909, Leo Hendrik Baekeland invented bakelite made from phenol and formaldehyde. In 1928, synthetic fuels were invented using Fischer-Tropsch process. In 1929, Walter Bock invented synthetic rubber Buna-S which is made up of styrene and butadiene and used to make car tires. In 1933, Otto Röhm polymerized the first acrylic glass methyl methacrylate. In 1935, Michael Perrin invented polyethylene. In 1937, Wallace Hume Carothers invented nylon. In 1938, Otto Bayer invented polyurethane. In 1941, Roy Plunkett invented Teflon. In 1946, he invented Polyester. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles are made from ethylene and paraxylene. In 1949, Fritz Stastny turned polystyrene into foam. After World War II, polypropylene was discovered in the early 1950s. In 1965, Stephanie Kwolek invented Kevlar.[12]


The following is a partial list of major commercial petrochemicals and their derivatives:

Chemicals produced from ethylene
Chemicals produced from propylene


Chemicals produced from benzene
Chemicals produced from toluene
Chemicals produced from xylenes

List of petrochemicals

Petrochemicals Fibers Petroleum Chemicals
Basic Feedstock

2-Ethylhexanol (2-EH)
Acetic acid
Acrylonitrile (AN)
Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (dioctyl phthalate)
Dimethyl terephthalate (DMT)
1,2-Dichloroethane (ethylene dichloride or EDC)
Ethylene glycol (EG)
Ethylene oxide (EO)
Formaldehyde Moulding Compound (FMC)
Linear alkyl benzene (LAB)
Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)
Propylene oxide
Purified terephthalic acid (PTA)
Styrene monomer (SM)
Thermosetting Resin (Urea/Melamine)
Vinyl acetate monomer (VAM)
Vinyl chloride monomer (VCM)

Acrylic fiber
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
Acrylonitrile styrene (AS)
Polybutadiene (PBR)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Polyethylene (PE)
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
Polypropylene (PP)
Polystyrene (PS)
Styrene butadiene (SBR)
Acrylic-formaldehude (AF)
Marine fuel oil
Petroleum refining
Adhesives and sealants
Construction chemicals
Corrosion control chemicals
Cosmetics raw materials
Electronic chemicals and materials
Flavourings, fragrances, food additives
Pharmaceutical drugs
Specialty and industrial chemicals
Specialty and industrial gases
Inks, dyes and printing supplies
Packaging, bottles, and containers
Paint, coatings, and resins
Polymer additives
Specialty and life sciences chemicals
Surfactants and cleaning agents

See also


  1. ^ Kiesche, Liz, "Royal Dutch Shell may take 50% stake in $9B Indian petchem project", Reuters via Seeking Alpha, August 12, 2020. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
  2. ^ a b Sami Matar and Lewis F. Hatch (2001). Chemistry of Petrochemical Processes. Gulf Professional Publishing. ISBN 0-88415-315-0.
  3. ^ a b Staff (March 2001). "Petrochemical Processes 2001". Hydrocarbon Processing: 71–246. ISSN 0887-0284.
  4. ^ "Ethylene production capacity globally 2024".
  5. ^ Rodrigues, Victor de O.; Faro Júnior, Arnaldo C. (2012-09-05). "On catalyst activation and reaction mechanisms in propane aromatization on Ga/HZSM5 catalysts". Applied Catalysis A: General. 435–436: 68–77. doi:10.1016/j.apcata.2012.05.036. ISSN 0926-860X.
  6. ^ Song, Changyeol; Gim, Min Yeong; Lim, Yong Hyun; Kim, Do Heui (2019-09-01). "Enhanced yield of benzene, toulene, and xylene from the co-aromatization of methane and propane over gallium supported on mesoporous ZSM-5 and ZSM-11". Fuel. 251: 404–412. doi:10.1016/j.fuel.2019.04.079. ISSN 0016-2361. S2CID 145954373.
  7. ^ Akhtar, M. N.; Al-Yassir, N.; Al-Khattaf, S.; Čejka, Jiří (2012-01-05). "Aromatization of alkanes over Pt promoted conventional and mesoporous gallosilicates of MEL zeolite". Catalysis Today. The 4th Czech-Italian-Spanish (CIS-4) workshop on Molecular Sieves and Catalysis. 179 (1): 61–72. doi:10.1016/j.cattod.2011.06.036. ISSN 0920-5861.
  8. ^ Hassan E. Alfadala, G.V. Rex Reklaitis and Mahmoud M. El-Halwagi (Editors) (2009). Proceedings of the 1st Annual Gas Processing Symposium, Volume 1: January, 2009 – Qatar (1st ed.). Elsevier Science. pp. 402–414. ISBN 978-0-444-53292-3. {{cite book}}: |author= has generic name (help)
  9. ^ Steam Cracking: Ethylene Production (PDF page 3 of 12 pages)
  10. ^ SBS Polymer Supply Outlook
  11. ^ Jean-Pierre Favennec, ed. (2001). Petroleum Refining: Refinery Operation and Management. Editions Technip. ISBN 2-7108-0801-3.
  12. ^ "Timeline – Petrochemicals Europe". Retrieved 2018-04-07.
  13. ^ Han, Y. -F.; Wang, J. -H.; Kumar, D.; Yan, Z.; Goodman, D. W. (2005-06-10). "A kinetic study of vinyl acetate synthesis over Pd-based catalysts: kinetics of vinyl acetate synthesis over Pd–Au/SiO2 and Pd/SiO2 catalysts". Journal of Catalysis. 232 (2): 467–475. doi:10.1016/j.jcat.2005.04.001. ISSN 0021-9517.
  14. ^ Lee, Eo Jin; Lee, Jong Won; Lee, Joongwon; Min, Hyung-Ki; Yi, Jongheop; Song, In Kyu; Kim, Do Heui (2018-06-01). "Ag-(Mo-W)/ZrO2 catalysts for the production of propylene oxide: Effect of pH in the preparation of ZrO2 support". Catalysis Communications. 111: 80–83. doi:10.1016/j.catcom.2018.04.005. ISSN 1566-7367. S2CID 103189174.
  15. ^ [1], "Anti-freeze solution for internal combustion engines", issued 1990-11-12 
  16. ^ Hävecker, Michael; Wrabetz, Sabine; Kröhnert, Jutta; Csepei, Lenard-Istvan; Naumann d'Alnoncourt, Raoul; Kolen'Ko, Yury V.; Girgsdies, Frank; Schlögl, Robert; Trunschke, Annette (2012). "Surface chemistry of phase-pure M1 MoVTeNb oxide during operation in selective oxidation of propane to acrylic acid". J. Catal. 285: 48–60. doi:10.1016/j.jcat.2011.09.012. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0012-1BEB-F.
  17. ^ Naumann d'Alnoncourt, Raoul; Csepei, Lénárd-István; Hävecker, Michael; Girgsdies, Frank; Schuster, Manfred E.; Schlögl, Robert; Trunschke, Annette (2014). "The reaction network in propane oxidation over phase-pure MoVTeNb M1 oxide catalysts". J. Catal. 311: 369–385. doi:10.1016/j.jcat.2013.12.008. hdl:11858/00-001M-0000-0014-F434-5.
  18. ^ Kinetic studies of propane oxidation on Mo and V based mixed oxide catalysts. 2011.

External links

Media related to Petrochemicals at Wikimedia Commons