Commodity chemicals (or bulk commodities or bulk 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.
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
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. and these can be found in many organic chemistry text books.
Chemical compounds are often classified into two classes, inorganic and organic. Both are produced on large scale.
Commonly traded commodity chemicals include:
- Acetic acid
- Acrylate esters
- Acrylic acid
- Adipic acid
- Bisphenol A
- Butyl acetate
- Castor oil
- Dimethyl terephthalate
- Epoxy resins
- Ethyl acetate
- Ethylene diamine
- Ethylene dichloride (EDC)
- Ethylene oxide
- Ethylene vinyl acetate
- Ethyl benzene
- Expandable polystyrene
- Fatty acids
- Fatty alcohols
- Glycol ethers
- Maleic anhydride
- Methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK)
- Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)
- Methyl methacrylate
- Monoethylene glycol
- Monopropylene glycol
- Nylon 6 & 6/6,
- Oxo alcohols
- Phthalic anhydride
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
- Polyvinyl chloride
- Propylene oxide
- Purified terephthalic acid (PTA)
- Recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
- Vinyl acetate
- Vinyl chloride
- White spirit
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). 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.
Research has been conducted on the use of alternative feedstocks such as biomass and societal waste. These lower carbon processes are sometimes termed "Green Chemistry".
- Speciality chemicals
- Fine chemicals
- Chemical industry
- Northeast of England Process Industry Cluster
- Chemical plant
- Organic chemistry
- Commercial classification of chemicals
- Soltz; et al. (2003). Industry Trade & Summary: Organic Commodity Chemicals (PDF) (Report). UNITED STATES INTERNATIONAL TRADE COMMISSION.
- McFarlane; Robinson (5 March 2007). SURVEY OF ALTERNATIVE FEEDSTOCKS FOR COMMODITY CHEMICAL MANUFACTURING (PDF) (Report).
- Wieissermel & Arp (February 1997). Industrial Organic Chemistry 3rd Edition. ISBN 3-527-28838-4.
- UK Trade&Investment. "Chemicals–the UK advantage" (PDF). p. 9–10, 29. Retrieved 10 July 2013.