What is the Chemical Industry?

Daniel Liden

The chemical industry is a central part of modern business and manufacturing. It produces a massive range of different substances that are used in almost all fields, from commercial sales to medicine. Chemical companies use raw materials such as oil, water, metals, and natural gases to produce thousands of different chemicals that are used all across the globe. Rubber and plastic make up a huge part of the chemical industry, which actually consumes a significant part of its own output.

Pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on the chemical industry.
Pharmaceutical companies rely heavily on the chemical industry.

There are many different processes and technologies involved in the chemical industry, as companies must take many steps to convert raw materials into usable chemicals. They often must process and refine the raw materials to get them into a pure form. Great precision is needed; if even a small amount of the material is not entirely pure, the final product could be ruined. Measurement, then, is an extraordinarily important aspect of the industry. Finally, different substances and materials are usually put through chemical reactions that yield the desired end results.

Detergents are made by the chemical industry.
Detergents are made by the chemical industry.

Chemicals produced by the chemical industry are placed into several different categories. Basic chemicals include chemicals and chemical products produced in great quantities and used frequently. Plastic is one example of a basic chemical; plastic products are produced around the world in very significant quantities and are used in everything from packaging to toys. Petrochemicals, which are derived from petroleum and other hydrocarbons, and fertilizers, which are used in massive quantities by the agricultural industry, are also included in the category of basic chemicals.

The chemical industry is responsible for producing a variety of products such as plastics, electronics components and fuels.
The chemical industry is responsible for producing a variety of products such as plastics, electronics components and fuels.

Specialty chemicals, often called fine chemicals, are produced by the chemical industry in smaller quantities and tend to cost far more money. They include special adhesives, electronic chemicals, industrial gases, sealants, and coatings. Life sciences make up another category of chemicals. This category includes biological products used in health industries and in crop protection. Life science chemicals tend to be quite expensive.

Consumer chemicals are those chemicals produced by the chemical industry that are sold directly to consumers. These include such things as soap, detergents, and cosmetic products. The chemical industry is massive, producing at least hundreds of millions of tons of chemicals each year. It is a vital part of the modern economy, and has wide-ranging effects in a variety of other industries. Automotive, pharmaceutical, consumer manufacturing, and cosmetics companies all rely heavily on the chemical products that are produced around the clock by chemical companies around the world.

Fertilizers used in the agriculture industry are often considered chemicals.
Fertilizers used in the agriculture industry are often considered chemicals.

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Discussion Comments


We live in a chemical world. We also live in a world where cancer, diabetes, obesity and tons of other chronic diseases have nearly reached epidemic levels. I thinks its impossible that there is not a connection. Chemicals have an effect on your body, make no mistake.

A lifetime spent ingesting even the most benign of chemicals will have an accumulated effect over time. I think there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the science of the modern world has made our quality of life worse.


I remember hearing once that New Jersey was the flavoring capitol of the world. Apparently most of the chemical factories that produce natural and artificial flavors are based in New Jersey.

I think this is crazy to think about for a couple of reasons. One, there is chemical flavoring in almost everything. If you start reading the labels on food you realize that most of it does not taste like any of the ingredients but instead just tastes like whatever chemical flavoring has been added. When you realize how common this is you realize what a huge industry chemical flavoring is.

Second, it always boggles my mind to think of exporting a flavoring. If most of them is made in New Jersey, that means that they export the flavor of strawberries so that the Dutch can make strawberry soda. And they might export the flavor of pork so that a Korean company can make ramen. This is just such a crazy thing to think of buying and selling and shipping overseas.

I would one day like to see a catalog of all the different flavors that are available. I'm sure there are tens of thousands. Think of how many different kinds of hard candy and potato chips there are and you will begin to get a sense of how huge this industry is.


Its easy to forget sometimes, but there are chemicals in almost everything we use.

Our food, whether it be fresh or processed, has all kind of preservatives, fertilizers, colorings and stabilizing agents.

Everything in your house that is painted, made of plastic, sealed, stained or insulated is made of chemicals.

Your car runs on dozens of different chemicals from the gas to the break fluid to your window washing liquid.

Clothes are full of chemicals. Soaps, shampoos and deodorants are all chemical based. Medicine contains lots of chemicals and even drinking water is chemically treated.

There are positives and negatives to this profusion of chemicals but my point is just that they are everywhere. We live in a chemical world. Without a chemical industry all of our lives would be drastically different.

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