Although chemicals were made and used throughout history, the
birth of the heavy chemical industry (production of chemicals in large quantities for a
variety of uses) coincided with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution in general.
From the perspective of chemical engineers, the chemical industry involves the use of
chemical processes such as chemical reactions and refining methods to produce a wide
variety of solid, liquid, and gaseous materials. Most of these products serve to
manufacture other items, although a smaller number go directly to consumers.
The chemical industry comprises the companies that produce
industrial chemicals. Central to the modern world economy, it converts raw materials
(oil, natural gas, air, water, metals, and minerals) into more than 70,000 different
The plastics industry contains some overlap, as most chemical
companies produce plastic as well as other chemicals.
Life Sciences :
Life sciences (about 30 percent of the dollar output of the
chemistry business) include differentiated chemical and biological substances,
pharmaceuticals, diagnostics, animal health products, vitamins, and pesticides. While
much smaller in volume than other chemical sectors, their products tend to have very
high prices—over ten dollars per pound—growth rates of 1.5 to 6 times GDP, and research
and development spending at 15 to 25 percent of sales.
Life science products are usually produced with very high
specifications and are closely scrutinized by government agencies such as the Food and
Drug Administration. Pesticides, also called "crop protection chemicals", are about 10
percent of this category and include herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides.
Specialty Chemicals :
Specialty chemicals are a category of relatively high valued,
rapidly growing chemicals with diverse end product markets. Typical growth rates are one
to three times GDP with prices over a dollar per pound. They are generally characterized
by their innovative aspects. Products are sold for what they can do rather than for what
chemicals they contain. Products include electronic chemicals, industrial gases,
adhesives and sealants as well as coatings, industrial and institutional cleaning
chemicals, and catalysts.
In 2012, excluding fine chemicals, the $546 billion global
speciality chemical market was 33% Paints, Coating and Surface Treatments, 27% Advanced
Polymer, 14% Adhesives and Sealants, 13% additives and 13% pigments and inks. Speciality
chemicals are sold as effect or performance chemicals. Sometimes they are mixtures of
formulations, unlike "fine chemicals," which are almost always single-molecule products.
Consumer Products :
Consumer products include direct product sale of chemicals such
as soaps, detergents, and cosmetics. Typical growth rates are 0.8 to 1.0 times GDP.
Consumers rarely if ever come into contact with basic chemicals but polymers and
speciality chemicals are the materials that they will encounter everywhere in their
everyday lives, such as in plastics, cleaning materials, cosmetics, paints & coatings,
electronic gadgets, automobiles and the materials used to construct their homes.
These speciality products are marketed by chemical companies to
the downstream manufacturing industries as pesticides, speciality polymers, electronic
chemicals, surfactants, construction chemicals, Industrial Cleaners, flavours and
fragrances, speciality coatings, printing inks, water-soluble polymers, food additives,
paper chemicals, oil field chemicals, plastic adhesives, adhesives and sealants,
cosmetic chemicals, water management chemicals, catalysts, textile chemicals. Chemical
companies rarely supply these products directly to the consumer.