Examples of Petrochemicals and Petroleum Products

Household and Industrial Uses of Petrochemicals

Petrochemical plant
Petrochemical plants like this produce ingredients for food and drugs, not just exotic chemicals and fuels. Jason Teale Photography/Getty Images

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, petroleum is a "thick, flammable, yellow-to-black mixture of gaseous, liquid, and solid hydrocarbons that occurs naturally beneath the earth's surface, can be separated into fractions including natural gas, gasoline, naphtha, kerosene, fuel and lubricating oils, paraffin wax, and asphalt and is used as raw material for a wide variety of derivative products." In other words, petroleum is much more than oil, and it has an astounding array of uses.

The Many Uses of Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals are any products made from petroleum. You're probably aware gasoline and plastic start out as petroleum, but petrochemicals are incredibly versatile and are incorporated into a huge range of products ranging from groceries to rocket fuel.  

The Primary Hydrocarbons

Raw crude oil and natural gas are purified into a relatively small number of hydrocarbons (combinations of hydrogen and carbon). These are used directly in manufacturing and transportation or act as feedstock to make other chemicals.

  • Methane: a greenhouse gas that can be used as fuel and is often included in rocket fuel
  • Ethylene: used to make plastics and films, as well as detergents, synthetic lubricants, and styrenes (used to make protective packaging)
  • Propylene: a colorless, odorless gas used for fuel and to make polypropylene, a versatile plastic polymer used to make products ranging from carpets to structural foam
  • Butanes: hydrocarbon gases that are generally used for fuel and in industry
  • Butadiene: used in the manufacture of synthetic rubbers
  • BTX (benzene, toluene, xylene): benzene, toluene, and xylene are aromatic hydrocarbons.  A major part of gasoline, benzene is also used to make nylon fibers which, in turn, are used to make clothing, packaging, and many other products

    Petrochemicals in Medicine

    Petrochemicals play many roles in medicine because they are used to create resins, films, and plastics. Here are just a few examples:

    1. Phenol and Cumene are used to create a substance that is essential for manufacturing penicillin (an extremely important antibiotic) and aspirin. 
    2. Petrochemical resins are used to purify drugs, thus cutting costs and speeding the manufacturing process.
    3. Resins made from petrochemicals are used in the manufacture of drugs including treatments for AIDS, arthritis, and cancer.  
    4. Plastics and resins made with petrochemicals are used to make devices such as artificial limbs and skin.  
    5. Plastics are used to make a huge range of medical equipment including bottles, disposable syringes, and much more.

    Petrochemicals in Food

    Petrochemicals are used to make most food preservatives that keep food fresh on the shelf or in a can. In addition, you'll find petrochemicals listed as ingredients in many chocolates and candies. Food colorings made with petrochemicals are used in a surprising number of products including chips, packaged foods, and canned or jarred foods.

    Petrochemicals in Agriculture

    More than a billion pounds of plastic, all made with petrochemicals, find use annually in U.S. agriculture.

    The chemicals are used to make everything from plastic sheeting and mulch to pesticides and fertilizers. Plastics are also used to make twine, silage, and tubing. Petroleum fuels are also used to transport foods (which are, of course, stored in plastic containers). 

    Petrochemicals in Household Products

    Because it is used to make plastics, fibers, synthetic rubber, and films, petrochemicals are used in a bewildering array of household products. To name just a few:

    • Carpeting
    • Crayons
    • Detergents
    • Dyes
    • Fertilizers
    • Milk jugs
    • Pantyhose
    • Perfume
    • Safety glass
    • Shampoo
    • Soft contact lenses
    • Wax

     

    Format
    mla apa chicago
    Your Citation
    Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Examples of Petrochemicals and Petroleum Products." ThoughtCo, Jan. 9, 2018, thoughtco.com/petrochemicals-and-petroleum-products-603558. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2018, January 9). Examples of Petrochemicals and Petroleum Products. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/petrochemicals-and-petroleum-products-603558 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "Examples of Petrochemicals and Petroleum Products." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/petrochemicals-and-petroleum-products-603558 (accessed April 20, 2018).