Various types of chemicals are used in industrial-scale processing and manufacturing, either as ingredients, reactants, solvents, reagents, buffers, or catalysts. Five of the most common industrial chemicals include sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide, nitrogen, propylene and ethylene.
Industrial chemicals are used to manufacture many in-demand industrial goods, such as distilled petroleum products, plastics, inks, paints, adhesives, cosmetics, and soaps. These products can either be used directly by consumers or further processed by industries to create other end products.
Consumer products undergo multiple processes before they’re sold to wholesalers and retailers for market distribution. For example, even during the packaging stage, many products require the addition of certain chemicals, like moisture absorbers.
Read on to learn more about the use of common industrial chemicals in manufacturing, as well as five common examples.
In this post:
What are industrial chemicals?
Put simply, industrial chemicals are chemicals that are used in the processing or manufacturing of products. They can either be a direct component of a particular product or an essential, but indirect part of it. The products themselves may be used as industrial ingredients to create other goods or as consumer products in their own right.
Industrial chemicals are broadly classified based on their common uses. Here are some examples of these generic categories:
- Flame retardants
- Conductors and insulators
Exposure to certain types of industrial chemicals can be harmful to humans and other organisms. Some chemicals may even trigger allergic/autoimmune reactions or cause cancer. Many industrial chemicals are corrosive, flammable, and toxic, so it’s essential to take the necessary precautions (such as wearing PPE) when handling them.
Government regulatory bodies may further legally define industrial chemicals by exclusion. This means a chemical can be considered an industrial product if it doesn’t fit certain criteria or belong to any of these groups:
- Agricultural chemicals
- Veterinary chemicals
- Therapeutic goods
- Food products
What are the types of chemical industries?
Broadly speaking, chemical industries can be classified into two main sectors – the commodity or basic chemicals sector and the speciality chemicals sector. Although commodity chemicals are manufactured by various companies, the end products are essentially the same. These are generic chemicals that are produced in large quantities. Examples of commodity chemicals include polymers, fertilisers, and petrochemicals.
Speciality chemicals, on the other hand, are customised to the specific needs of the customer. These chemicals typically have patents and are only available from a few suppliers (including ReAgent!). Some examples of specialty chemicals include adhesives, sealants, and electronic chemicals.
The two broad sectors of chemical industries can be further subdivided into other categories based on their products. The top six chemical industries are the following:
- Inorganic and organic chemical industry – inorganic chemicals include acids, alkalies, salts, and allied chemicals. The organic chemicals industry, meanwhile, includes various types of synthetic and natural drugs, as well as antibiotics.
- Fertiliser industry – fertilisers can either be organic or inorganic but their use is the same – the cultivation of agriculturally and commercially valuable plants, like grains.
- Refineries and petroleum industry – gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and butane are the most common and important refined petroleum products. They’re extracted from crude oil mainly through the distillation process.
- Pesticide industry – much like fertilisers, pesticides can either be organic or inorganic. They’re commonly used in the agricultural industry to eradicate pest organisms like insects and weeds that are harming agricultural produce.
- Electroplating and heat treatment industry – this includes the mass production of electroplated jewellery (gold and silver), as well as chrome plating stainless steel for motorcycles (find out how ReAgent helped one of our clients expand their silver and chrome spray-on coating business here).
- Hydrogenated oil and soap industries – the surfactants and emulsifiers produced by these industries are among the most common pollutants in water. They can affect not only the potability of water, but also the health of the soil.
Common industrial chemicals
The most common types of industrial chemicals are mainly used as reagents, catalysts, and solvents. Let’s take a look at five examples of common industrial chemicals in a little more detail.
1. Sulphuric acid
Sulphuric acid is a strong acid that has the chemical formula H2SO4. It’s almost ubiquitous in industry because it’s involved in one or more industrial processes. One of the main uses of sulphuric acid is in the production of phosphoric acid, which is a key ingredient in chemical fertilisers. Its other primary application is as a reagent for many chemical processes, including the production of medicines and other pharmaceutical products. Sulphuric acid is also crucial for processing metals like copper and cleaning steel.
2. Sodium hydroxide
Sodium hydroxide is a strong base with the chemical formula NaOH. It’s mainly used in the manufacture of soaps, textiles, detergents, and paper. Sodium hydroxide is also a popular industrial cleaning agent.
Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen. Although a fairly stable gas, it reacts with other chemicals to form substances that are essential to life. Nitrogen is naturally converted to ammonia and nitrates through lightning. In turn, these chemicals are used by organisms in several biological processes, such as the synthesis of amino acids.
Industrially, millions of tons of nitrogen gas is produced each year. It’s a vital ingredient in manufacturing fertilisers, dyes, and explosives. In liquid form, nitrogen plays a crucial role in medical and biological research. It’s also important in the electronics industry.
Propylene is a hydrocarbon gas at room temperature with the chemical formula C3H6. Otherwise known as propene and/or methyl ethylene, it’s produced naturally through the fermentation process. Propylene is also extracted from fossil fuels and used as a raw material to make various rubber and plastic-based products.
Ethylene is a double-bonded hydrocarbon with the chemical formula C2H4. It’s naturally produced by plants as a hormone that’s responsible for ripening fruit. Industrially, it’s used in metal welding and as an ingredient in polymer production.
Industrial chemicals are used in various industrial processes, either as an ingredient in manufacturing products or as a reagent for chemical reactions. Industrial chemicals can be classified into different types depending on their primary use. Examples of five common industrial chemicals include sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide, nitrogen, propylene, and ethylene.
The blog on chemicals.co.uk and everything published on it is provided as an information resource only. The blog, its authors and affiliates accept no responsibility for any accident, injury or damage caused in part or directly from following the information provided on this website. We do not recommend using any chemical without first consulting the Material Safety Data Sheet which can be obtained from the manufacturer and following the safety advice and precautions on the product label. If you are in any doubt about health and safety issues please consult the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).