In the petrochemical industry, the organic chemicals produced in the largest volumes are methanol, ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene, and xylenes. Ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, along with butylene’s, are collectively called olefins, which belong to a class of unsaturated aliphatic hydrocarbons having the general formula CnH2n. Olefins contain one or more double bonds, which make them chemically reactive. Benzene, toluene, and xylenes, commonly referred to as aromatics, are unsaturated cyclic hydrocarbons containing one or more rings. Olefins, aromatics, and methanol are precursors to a variety of chemical products and are generally referred to as primary petrochemicals. Given the number of organic chemicals and the variety and multitude of ways by which they are converted to consumer and industrial products, this report focuses primarily on these seven petrochemicals, their feedstock sources, and their end uses.
Basic chemicals and plastics are the key building blocks for manufacture of a wide variety of durable and nondurable consumer goods. Considering the items encountered every day—the clothes we wear, construction materials used to build our homes and offices, a variety of household appliances and electronic equipment, packaging for food and beverages, and many products used in various modes of transportation—chemical and plastic materials provide the fundamental building blocks that enable the manufacture of the vast majority of these goods. Demand for chemicals and plastics are driven by global economic conditions, which are directly linked to demand for consumer goods.