What Are Chemicals and Petrochemicals?

What Are Chemicals and Petrochemicals? Chemical reactions don’t create a change in substance. They result in the creation of other chemical combinations.

Both petrochemicals and chemicals are substances with non-identical origins. Petrochemicals are derived from chemical compounds to construct chemical products further. In comparison, a chemical is any substance with a defined composition. To understand these substances further, let’s answer the question, what are chemicals and petrochemicals? 

What is the difference between chemicals and petrochemicals?

1. Chemicals

As we’ve recalled earlier, a chemical is a defined substance. Chemicals can be found in nature or manufactured. Nature, the food we eat, and the clothes we wear are all made of chemicals.

Chemicals can be classified into two key categories: unprocessed and manufactured chemicals.

  • Unprocessed chemicals are found in nature, and their initial composition was not altered. These natural chemicals can be found in water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and sugar.

These natural chemicals are derived using extraction methods such as solvent extraction, distillation method, pressing, and sublimation.

Examples of natural chemical extraction include extracting sugar from sugar beets and leaching soluble tea from tea leaves.

  • Manufactured chemicals are those whose composition was deconstructed from its original structure in a laboratory to create new chemical substances used in making other products. Manufactured chemicals are also known as Synthetic Chemicals

The changes that created manufactured chemicals are called chemical reactions. Chemical reactions don’t result in a physical change such as water changing into ice. An example of a chemical reaction is when oxygen is added to iron; it creates iron oxide. Iron oxide is later used to produce durable pigments such as coatings, paint, and colored concretes.

Chemical reactions don’t create a change in substance. They result in the creation of other chemical combinations.
Chemical reactions don’t create a change in substance. They result in the creation of other chemical combinations.

2. Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals are a combination of chemicals. They are derived from crude oil and natural gases. Petrochemicals are widely used in today’s modern world to produce some of our essential items, including plastics, medical equipment, and tires. The most highly produced petrochemicals are ethylene, propylene, and benzene.

  • Ethylene is the simplest of organic compounds known as alkenes, containing carbon-carbon double bonds. It’s a colorless and flammable gas with a sweet taste and smell. Ethylene is also known as a plant hormone since it acts as a regulator and stimulator of the blooming of flowers, fruit ripening, and leaves shedding. Ethylene is also used in plastics and thermoplastic manufacturing.
  • Propylene is another colorless and flammable hydrocarbon obtained from petroleum. Propylene is largely used to produce resins and fibers. This hydrocarbon is also used to produce propylene glycol, mainly used in food preservation and in cosmetics, dog food, and hygiene products. Some foods containing this petrochemical are seasoning blends, dried soups, salad dressings, soft drinks, and flavored teas.
  • Benzene is a popularly used industrial chemical. Like other petrochemicals, it’s produced from crude oil. It’s a major component of gasoline, plastics, resins, synthetic fibers, rubber lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. Benzene can also naturally be found near volcanoes and forest fires. At home, you will likely find benzene in glues, adhesives, cleaning products, paint strippers, and tobacco smoke. Despite being widely used, benzene also poses some health threats.

Petrochemicals are highly beneficial due to their low production cost as well as their minimal environmental impact. Additionally, they are an essential component of the everyday goods we consume, making them crucial in our contemporary societies. Other than being found in most items used daily, they give these items added features such as water resistance, making our food fresher for longer periods of time, and self-fixing tires.

  • How are petrochemicals obtained?

Petrochemicals are produced in petrochemical facilities.
Petrochemicals are produced in petrochemical facilities.

Petrochemistry involves converting oil and natural gases as raw materials into petrochemicals (ethylene, propylene, and benzene) into goods. This process occurs in petrochemical plants where oil is refined and converted into petrochemicals.

Petroleum, also called crude oil and used in the creation of petrochemicals, is a fossil fuel similar to coal and natural gas. Petroleum can be found in the form of gas, liquid, and solid forms of hydrocarbons—these forms of petroleum result from pressure, temperatures, and other surrounding conditions. In the first phase of petrochemical production, crude oil goes through a process of refining.

  • What is petrochemical refining?

As previously mentioned, oil refining is part of the petrochemical process. This process is an essential phase of the downstream side of the petroleum industry. Petroleum refineries are enormous industrial complexes that contain several processing units and associated buildings like utility poles and storage tanks. Some crude oil is processed in contemporary petroleum refineries at rates reaching 900,000 barrels per day. The biggest oil refinery in the world can be found in Gujarat, India, owned by Reliance Industries.

Every Refinery has its own configuration and combination of processes that are heavily influenced by where the Refinery is located, the targeted outputs, and economic factors.

Jamnagar Oil Refinery is the biggest in the world. It’s located in Gujarat India.
Jamnagar Oil Refinery is the biggest in the world. It’s located in Gujarat India.

Chemicals and Petrochemicals Manufacturers Association

The Chemicals and Petrochemicals Manufacturers Association or CPMA represents at the highest national level in India the chemicals and petrochemicals industry. The association was founded in 1993 and gives its members a platform to discuss ideas, express concerns and make recommendations on problems pertaining to the industry.

Biggest petrochemical companies

Some of the biggest companies in the petrochemical industry include:

  • Anchorage Investments is an industrial company based in Egypt. The group is made up of several separate entities in the fields of petrochemical development projects, mining/quarrying, project management, and the development of beneficiation/building materials manufacturing projects. The company recently launched the first phase of its Anchor Benitoite petrochemical complex in 2022 to be in the Suez Canal.
  • Sinopec is a petroleum refinery corporation headquartered in China. The group is also known as the China Petrochemical Corporation. Their essential business involves industrial investment management, petroleum and natural gas exploration, production, storage, and transportation among other services.
  • Aramco is an integrated energy and chemical company located in Saudi Arabia. Aramco produces energy products including oil, gas production, and chemicals only to name a few. They execute sustainable business operations and technology development projects and research.


To conclude, chemicals and petrochemicals differ in their components. Chemicals can be found in nature or manufactured, while petrochemicals are derived from crude oil and natural gases to produce ethylene, propylene, and benzene. These petrochemical products are used to create most of our everyday goods, including medical equipment, tires, and cosmetics, as well as giving them additional features such as water resistance.

Petrochemicals are produced in specified facilities where the process begins with petroleum refined to be converted into raw materials that are later transformed into petrochemicals. Some of the most prominent players in this industry include Anchorage Investments, Sinopec, and Aramco.