The world as we know it is far more reliant on crude oil than most people think. The petrochemical industry isn’t simply responsible for producing the fuel that we need in just about each part of our daily lives but is also responsible for a number of petroleum-based product, some of which may come as a surprise.
From plastics and rubber to cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and soaps, the sheer range of products that come out of this industry makes it one of the most important ones on the planet.
Being such a specialised industry, and one that works with highly specific chemicals and processes, petrochemical equipment is also some of the most complex and specialised machinery in any industry. It needs to be able to withstand the hazards of working with highly volatile and corrosive materials, while also meeting excessive demands for the products that they manufacture.
On top of this, these machines need to be used safely, which requires an undeniable degree of reliability from them; whether they be pumps, tanks, vessels, or heat exchangers, these machines need to meet all of the requirements of petrochemical product manufacturers.
In this article, we will explore this industry in detail. We will outline exactly what the industry does, the types of products it produces, and the raw materials it uses to do this.
In addition to this, we will also explore some of the machines used for these specialised processes while pointing out some of the dangers that they present to the industry and society at large.
To conclude, we will give you some advice that will help you find the right supplier of petrochemical equipment for your needs.
So, let’s get started:
What are Petrochemicals?
At the face of it, petrochemicals are products that have been manufactured and refined from petroleum through a highly specialised process.
The scope of the sort of products that this industry can produce are fairly wide and are the sort of objects that you use every day and wonder what they are made from.
Not all petrochemical products are synthesised through petroleum, however, and may come from a variety of other sources that are typically associated with fuel.
These raw materials, before they are synthesised, include coal, natural gas, corn, palm fruit or sugar cane.
When synthesised these resources become chemicals that can be used to produce a range of products.
These chemicals include ethylene, propylene, methanol, benzene and toluene; but we will explore these in greater detail a little further on.
When most people think of crude oil, they commonly associate it with the production of fuel and not much else. Even with this misconception oil is believed to be our most precious natural resource.
This intensifies, however, when you start to delve into all of the products that the petrochemical industry produces, and you start to see just how reliant humanity is on crude oil for just about everything.
What Does the Petrochemical Industry Produce?
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at what exactly these products are.
Some of the materials produced in the petrochemical industry make up some of the most commonly used materials in daily life.
They serve an essential function to the manufacturing, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and commercial industries; which literally couldn’t continue with normal production without them.
These materials include plastics, soaps, drugs, fertilisers, epoxy resins, pesticides, explosives, rubber and paints.
Plastics, Rubbers & Epoxy Resin
Where plastics are concerned there are two types that can be produced: thermoplastics that soften when heated and hardened when cooled; as well as thermosets which will retain their shape even when heated after they are moulded.
These are made through the petrochemical process from a range of organic materials like goal and natural gas, through processes called polymerisation and polycondensation.
Synthetic rubbers are produced through a similar process, also using crude oil or petroleum alongside a number of other raw materials.
Rubber is also often produced through a more natural process using a tree called Hevea Brasiliense or Rubber trees, around 70% of the world’s rubber is synthetically produced in petrochemical plants.
Epoxy resins are produced by creating a reaction between epichlorohydrin and bisphenol-A.
In such cases, bisphenol-A can be substituted with other raw materials like glycols or phenol; all of which are produced in petrochemical plants.
Pesticides & Fertilisers
Many of the word’s pesticides are produced in petrochemical plants.
Through a process of heating, distilling, stirring and drying, petroleum-based chemicals such as ethylene, propylene and methane are used to create these pesticides.
Chemical fertilisers are also commonly made in petrochemical plants.
They are made up of a range of compounds. These compounds need to be produced chemically and are generally synthesised from sulphur, coal and phosphate rock.
Explosives, by their very nature, are made up of combustible substances, the types that are produced in petrochemical plants.
This may vary depending on the type of explosive, with the less sensitive variety being made from a combination of fuel and ammonium nitrate. The fuel side of the recipe typically contains carbon and hydrogen fuel oil.
The chemical reaction associated with making soap is called saponification.
During this petrochemical process, soap is formed by mixing fats or oils with bases like sodium hydroxide.
These materials are chosen due to the way that the mixture of fatty acids and alkali that create a substance classed as a surfactant.
This basically means that it attaches to grease and dirt so that these molecules can be easily dissolved in water while also breaking water surface tension, making a substance that can clean.
Emulsion paint is made up by a chemical process that combines water, titanium oxide, calcium carbonate, kaolin, cagon, natrosol, ammonia, kerosene and yellow or red iron oxide.
During this process, the water present in the paint is slowly evaporated to bring the abovementioned compounds closer together. This causes the resin and pigments to fuse into a solid that we call paint film.
Raw Materials Used in the Petrochemical Industry
We have touched on some of these chemicals in the above descriptions of the products that use them in their production.
Still, they have such a wide range of important uses, that these can be said to be the most important products of the petrochemical industry.
Ethylene is identified by its colourless and odourless appearance and is one of the most highly produced compounds in the petrochemical industry.
It has the chemical formula of H2C=CH2 and is highly flammable.
It is typically used to produce plastics and polymers and can also be used as chemical fertilizer, particularly when forcing plants to bud, or when causing the fruit to ripen.
One method of producing ethylene is to heat hydrocarbons to temperatures between750 and 950 °C. When the hydrocarbon in question is ethane, the resultant product is ethylene.
During the same process described for ethylene above, you can also create propylene molecules as a by-product.
The feedstocks used in this process (which is called steam pyrolysis) may include ethane or gas oils. Propylene can also be produced as a by-product of petroleum synthesis.
This compound is commonly used for heating and cutting due to its combustibility. It is also often used as a fuel.
It can also be found in a number of consumer products, including e-liquid for vapes, food additives, cosmetic products and even antifreeze.
Benzene is created through a petrochemical process called cracking.
During this process, solvents are used to extract the benzene, along with a number of other compounds, from crude oil. After that, it is distilled to separate the other components that have been extracted, from the benzene.
Benzene has a wide range of commercial, industrial and household uses, and is also a major ingredient in gasoline.
It is also used to make plastics, resins, rubber lubricants, dyes, pesticides, drugs, and synthetic fibres.
Methanol has the chemical formula CH3OH and is made up of four parts hydrogen, one part oxygen and one-part carbon. It is produced through a petrochemical process that refines it from natural gas that reforms it with steam and distils the methanol into a pure form.
It has most of its uses in organic synthesis for fuel, solvents and antifreeze. It is also commonly used to produce biodiesel.
Toluene can either be naturally extracted from tolu trees, but is most commonly made from crude oil.
It has the chemical formula C7H8
It naturally occurs as a by-product when producing gasoline and other fuels made from crude oil, coal or coke (a solid substance made from coal by heating it in the absence of air).
It is colourless but has a fairly distinctive odour.
Toluene is used widely for commercial applications. It is used in paint thinners, glue and nail polish removers.
It is also most notably used for the production of TNT due to its highly flammable and explosive properties.
Types of Petrochemical Equipment
All of the abovementioned compounds can be created through processes that require very specific and highly specialised petrochemical equipment ranging from pumps and tanks to heat exchangers and extraction columns.
This equipment needs to be highly resistant to the destructive properties of the substances that they work with, while the production environment itself needs to be carefully controlled. This not only ensures the purity of the finished product, but also the safety of the facility itself.
This is because many of the compounds mentioned above are highly corrosive, flammable or explosive; which means that they need special solutions to ensure that they are produced, stored and handled with care.
The most common types of petrochemical equipment include tanks and vessels and heat exchangers and columns.
Tanks & Vessels
Pressure tanks and vessels are used extensively in the petrochemical industry for storage and handling, as well as the processing and distributing toxic, explosive or corrosive petrochemical products.
To meet the demands placed on them by hazardous materials, these vessels need to be highly resistant to the substances they work with. Because of this, they are commonly made of corrosive resistant substances as stainless steel and titanium allow.
They are highly regarded for their low use of materials and their reliability; which is important for safety in any pressurised situation.
For the actual processes that go on in the petrochemical industry, you need to be able to generate a lot of heat, and you need to do it in a controlled fashion.
This means cli9mate, condensation and temperature control for both heating and cooling.
They are not only used as a form of petrochemical equipment but also have their uses in agriculture.
Contact M&H Pumps for Details
From all of this, we can see that the processes and machinery used in the petrochemical industry can be quite complex and difficult to navigate, particularly to those who are fairly new to the industry.
For these reasons we recommend entrusting decision-making points to a professional that you can rely on to give you the very best advice, equipment and services.
If you would like assistance from a company that you can rely on to provide the best equipment for your needs, be sure to get into contact with a representative from M & H Pumps today.