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A Look at Common Industrial Chemicals

Sulfuric Acid -- Probably the most common industrial acid. Used widely in mineral leaching and gas scrubbing (removing dangerous substances). Also used to neutralize alkaline substances.

Nitrogen – Most common inert substance used in industry. Used for
everything from tank blanketing (so vapors don’t combine with oxygen to form explosive mixtures) to controlling reaction temperatures in exothermic reactions. Also widely used as a solid conveying gas carrier when air cannot be used due to explosion threats (ex/ fertilizers).

Oxygen – The ultimate oxidizer. Used in any application where the introduction of oxygen to the reaction mixture is necessary.

Ethylene – Probably the most popular industrial precursor to polymer manufacturing (ex/ polyethylene).

Ammonia – Very popular scrubbing solvent to remove pollutants from fossil fuel combustion streams before they can be released to the atmosphere. Also a popular refrigerant.

Phosphoric Acid – Main use is in fertilizer production, other uses include soft drinks and other food products.

Sodium Hydroxide – The most popular alkaline substance in industry. Widely used in dyes and soap manufacturing. Also a good cleaning agent and can be used to neutralize acids. Also known as lye.

Propylene – Another industrial polymer precursor (polypropylene).

Chlorine – Used in the manufacture of bleaching agents and titanium dioxide. Many of the bleaching agents based on chlorine are being replaced by hydrogen peroxide due to environmental restrictions placed on chlorine.

Sodium Carbonate – Most commonly known as soda ash, sodium carbonate is used in many cleaning agents and in glass making. Most soda ash is mined from trona ore, but it can be manufactured by reacting salt and sulfuric acid.

Sodium Silicate – Perhaps the most widely used industrial insulation.

Cyclohexane – While cyclohexane is a common organic solvent, its crowning achievement is it’s use as a reactant in the production of a nylon precursor (later).

Adipic Acid – This is the chemical that is made from cyclohexane and in turn is polymerized to nylon.

Nitrobenzene – Primary use is in the manufacture of aniline, which is in turn used as a rubber additive to prevent oxidation (antioxidant).

Butyraldehyde – Used to manufacture 2-ethylhexanol which is then used to manufacture hydraulic oils or synthetic lubricants.

Aluminum Sulfate – Widely used in the paper and wastewater treatment industries as a pH buffer.

Methyl tert-butyl ether – Also known as MTBE, it is most famous for its role as a gasoline additive (oxygenate). Due to its toxic affect on mammals, the EPA has been ordering a decrease in its use and an increase in the use of ethanol as a replacement.

Ethylene Dichloride – Nearly all ethylene dichloride produced is used to produce vinyl chloride which is then polymerized to polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

Nitric Acid – Most common application is its reaction with ammonia to form the solid fertilizer ammonium nitrate.

Ammonium Nitrate – Probably the most widely used solid fertilizer

Benzene – The two largest uses for benzene are as reactants to produce ethylbenzene (used to produce styrene) and cumene (used to produce phenols). Also a very common organic solvent as well as a precursor to cyclohexane.

Urea – The majority of urea is used in fertilizer production. Some is also used in the manufacture of livestock feed.

Vinyl Chloride – As previously mentioned, this is the monomer form of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which finds uses as a building material and other durable plastics.

Ethylbenzene – Used almost exclusivley as a reactant for the production of styrene

Styrene – Monomer form of polystyrene. Polystyrene is used in pure form and expanded. Styrene can also be used in mixed forms or copolymers such as ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene).

Methanol – Used as a reactant to make methyl tertbutyl ether (MTBE), formaldeyde, and acetic acid. Typically produced from synthesis gases, namely carbon monoxide and hydrogen.

Xylene – o-xylene (ortho) is used primarily to manufacture phthalic anhydride which is in turn used to make a variety of plasticizers and polymers. p-xylene is used to manufacture terephthalic acid, a polyester feedstock.

Formaldehyde – Commonly used as part of a copolymer series (Urea-formaldehyde resins) or as another polymer additive used to bring out desired characteristics.

Terephthalic Acid – Almost exclusively used in the manufacture of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyester.

Ethylene Oxide – Majority of ethylene oxide is used to manufacture ethylene glycol which is described later.

Hydrochloric Acid – Two main uses include production of other chemicals (by acting as a reactant or a catalyst) and the pickling of steel. Also widely used in the pharmaceutical industry.

Toluene – Used primarily to manufacture benzoic acid. Benzoic acid is a precursor to phenol (later), various dyes, and rubber products.

Cumene – Nearly all cumene produced is oxidized to cumene hydroperoxide, then cleaved (splitting a molecule) to form phenol and acetone.

Ethylene Gylcol – Most common use is as a reactant to form polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Also used a primary ingredient in antifreeze.

Acetic Acid – Used primarily to manufacture vinyl acetate monomer (later) and acetic anhydride which is used to manufacture cellulose acetate.

Phenol – Used to manufacture Bispenol-A (later) as well as phenolic resins and caprolacturm.

Propylene Oxide – Two primary uses include urethane polyether polyols (both flexible and rigid foams) an propylene glycol which is used as a polymer additive as well as a common refrigerate.

Butadiene – Uses include styrene-butadiene rubber, polybutadiene, and other copolymers.

Carbon Black – Most common use is a rubber additive

Isobutylene – Most production is used to make butyl rubbers.

Potash – Used in agriculture as a crop fertilizer.

Acrylonitrile – Used as a reactant to form various copolymers along with acrylic fibers.

Vinyl Acetate – Monomer form a polyvinyl acetate, a common emulsion polymer and resin. PVA is the "sticky" agent in ordinary white glue.

Titanium Dioxide – Used as a white pigment for many products ranging from paints and polymers to pharmaceuticals and food items. In short, if it’s white, it probably has titanium dioxide in it.

Acetone – Used primarily to manufacture methyl methacrylate and Bisphenol-A

Bisphenol-A – Used as the main feedstock for polycarbonate resins and epoxy resins.


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