Commodity chemicals

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Commodity chemicals are a group of chemicals that are made on a very large scale to satisfy global markets. The average prices of commodity chemicals are regularly published in the chemical trade magazines and web sites such as Chemical Week and ICIS. There have been several studies of the scale and complexity of this market for example in the USA.[1][2]

Commodity Chemicals is a sub-sector of the chemical industry (other sub sectors are fine chemicals, speciality chemicals, inorganic chemicals, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, renewable energy (e.g. biofuels) and materials (e.g. biopolymers)) Commodity Chemicals are differentiated by primarily their bulk of their manufacture.

Industrial organic chemistry[edit]

The chemistry and processes used to create organic commodity chemicals (that is those based on the chemistry of carbon)from basic raw materials such as oil and gas; plus the chemistry and processes that are used to manufacture the many downstream speciality and fine chemicals have been studied in universities and industrial research centres for most of the 20th century. This is called organic synthesis and the industrial process streams that have been created are termed Industrial Organic Chemistry.[3] and these can be found in many organic chemistry text books.

Sustainable chemicals[edit]

Today research into industrial organic chemistry is largely focusing on the use of alternative feedstocks such as biomass and societal waste. Alternatively the focus is just to use less carbon in the manufacturing processes by making them more carbon efficient and these lower carbon processes is sometimes termed "Green Chemistry". Where this work has been successful the products arising from this work are called sustainable chemicals or green chemicals. For example Coca Cola, in the early part of the 21st century, reported their desire for the commodity chemical polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to be produced in a "greener" way for use in their soft drinks bottles and the product was introduced in 2009 and is known as PlantBottle.[4] Many clusters of commodity chemical companies and their local universities are working together to develop lower carbon processes, either for the chemistry used to make the product itself or in the energy production needed to create the products. An example of this is the Northeast of England Bioresources Group (NEBR) created by the members of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster(NEPIC). Their work is aimed at creating the future biorefinery[5] and other opportunities for energy and products to be manufactured from biomass and waste materials.[6] The industrial locations that can already produce commodity chemicals already have much of the infrastructure in place to manage the large quanties of materials that will be needed to turn these green and more sustainable processes into large scale manufacturing opportunities.


There are two basic types of commodity chemicals, inorganic and organic commodities. Organic commodities are sometimes discussed in generic groupings of materials such as alcohols, amines, betaines, fatty alcohols, acids, waxes, oils, petroleum, quaternary amines, solvents, surfactants, etc.


Commonly traded commodity chemicals include:


Materials such as these are made in large scale chemical manufacturing locations around the world. Not all of the materials are produced 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. These locations often have clusters of manufacturing units called chemical plants that share utilities and large scale infrastructure such as power stations, port facilities, road and rail terminals. In the United Kingdom for example there are 4 main locations for commodity chemical manufacture: near the River Mersey in Northwest England, on the Humber on the East coast of Yorkshire, in Grangemouth near the Firth of Forth in Scotland and on Teesside as part of the Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster (NEPIC).[7] Approximately 50% of the UK's petrochemicals, which are also commodity chemicals, are produced by the industry cluster companies on Teesside on three large chemical parks at Wilton, Billingham and Seal Sands.

These useful materials are mostly manufactured in continuous process chemical plants, as opposed to batch manufacturing chemical plants which are commoner in the other aforementioned sub-sectors of the industry, particularly speciality chemicals and fine chemicals. The object in commodity chemical manufacture is to carry out the chemical transformations on the raw materials used on a massive scale, producing relatively simple molecules at the lowest possible cost. Investment into these large scale manufacturing units and the lowering of environmental impacts in commodity chemical production involves large capital expenditures and long time horizons. These are known as capital intensive industries.

See also[edit]