Chemical industries can be traced back to Middle Eastern artisans, who refined alkali and limestone for the production of glass as early as 7,000 B.C., to the Phoenicians who produced soap in the 6th cent. B.C., and to the Chinese who developed black powder, a primitive explosive around the 10th cent. A.D. In the Middle Ages, alchemists produced small amounts of chemicals and by 1635 the Pilgrims in Massachusetts were producing saltpeter for gunpowder and chemicals for tanning. But, large-scale chemical industries first developed in 19th cent. In 1823, British entrepreneur James Muspratt started mass producing soda ash (needed for soap and glass) using a process developed by Nicolas Leblanc in 1790. Advances in organic chemistry in the last half of the 19th century allowed companies to produce synthetic dyes from coal tar for the textile industry as early as the 1850s.
In the 1890s, German companies began mass producing sulphuric acid and, at about the same time, chemical companies began using the electrolytic method, which required large amounts of electricity and salt, to create caustic soda and chlorine. Man-made fibers changed the textile industry when rayon (made from wood fibers) was introduced in 1914; the introduction of synthetic fertilizers by the American Cyanamid Company in 1909 led to a green revolution in agriculture that dramatically improved crop yields. Advances in the manufacture of plastics led to the invention of celluloid in 1869 and the creation of such products as nylon by Du Pont in 1928. Research in organic chemistry in the 1910s allowed companies in the 1920s and 30s to begin producing chemicals for oil. Today, petrochemicals made from oil are the industry's largest sector. Synthetic rubber came into existence during World War II, when the war cut off supplies of rubber from Asia.
Since the 1950s growing concern about toxic waste produced by chemical industries has led to increased government regulation and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (1972). The leakage of toxic chemicals at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India (1984), was the worst industrial disaster in history and heightened public concern about lax environmental regulations for chemical companies in developing countries.
About the Chemical and fine chemical industries
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 products.
The plastics industry contains some overlap, as most chemical companies produce plastic as well as other chemicals.
Polymers and plastics, especially polyethylene, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, polyethylene terephthalate, polystyrene and polycarbonate comprise about 80% of the industry’s output worldwide. Chemicals are used in a lot of different consumer goods, but are also used in a lot of different other sectors; including agriculture manufacturing, construction, and service industries etc. Major industrial customers include rubber and plastic products, textiles, apparel, petroleum refining, pulp and paper, and primary metals. Chemicals is close to a $3 trillion global enterprise, and the EU and U.S. chemical companies are the world's largest producers.
Sales of the chemical business can be divided into a few broad categories, including basic chemicals (about 35 to 37 percent of the output), life sciences (30 percent), specialty chemicals (20 to 25 percent) and consumer products (about 10 percent).
Basic chemicals, are a broad chemical category including polymers, bulk petrochemicals and intermediates, other derivatives and basic industrials, inorganic chemicals, and fertilizers. Typical growth rates for basic chemicals are about 0.5 to 0.7 times GDP.
Polymers, the largest revenue segment at about 33 percent of the basic chemicals value, includes all categories of plastics and man-made fibers. The major markets for plastics are packaging, followed by home construction, containers, appliances, pipes, transportation, toys, and games.
- The largest-volume polymer product, polyethylene (PE), is used mainly in packaging films and other markets such as milk bottles, containers, and pipe.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), another large-volume product, is principally used to make piping for construction markets as well as siding and, to a much smaller extent, transportation and packaging materials.
- Polypropylene (PP), similar in volume to PVC, is used in markets ranging from packaging, appliances, and containers to clothing and carpeting.
- Polystyrene (PS), another large-volume plastic, is used principally for appliances and packaging as well as toys and recreation.
- The leading man-made fibers include polyester, nylon, polypropylene, and acrylics, with applications including apparel, home furnishings, and other industrial and consumer use.
The principal raw materials for polymers are bulk petrochemicals.
Chemicals in the bulk petrochemicals and intermediates are primarily made from liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), natural gas, and crude oil. Their sales volume is close to 30 percent of overall basic chemicals. Typical large-volume products include ethylene, propylene, benzene, toluene, xylenes, methanol, vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), styrene, butadiene, and ethylene oxide. These basic or commodity chemicals are the starting materials used to manufacture many polymers and other more complex organic chemicals particularly those that are made for use in the specialty chemicals category (see below).
Other derivatives and basic industrials include synthetic rubber, surfactants, dyes and pigments, turpentine, resins, carbon black, explosives, and rubber products and contribute about 20 percent of the basic chemicals' external sales.
Inorganic chemicals (about 12 percent of the revenue output) make up the oldest of the chemical categories. Products include salt, chlorine, caustic soda, soda ash, acids (such as nitric acid, phosphoric acid, and sulfuric acid), titanium dioxide, and hydrogen peroxide.
Fertilizers are the smallest category (about 6 percent) and include phosphates, ammonia, and potash chemicals.
Life sciences (about 30 percent of the 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. Research and development spending sits 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 FDA (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 are a category of relatively high valued, rapidly growing chemicals with diverse end product markets. They are generally characterized by their innovative aspects. They 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 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.
Fine chemicals are complex, single, pure chemical substances, produced in limited quantities in multipurpose plants by multistep batch chemical or biotechnological processes. They are described by exacting specifications, used for further processing within the chemical industry. The class of fine chemicals is subdivided either on the basis of the added value (building blocks, advanced intermediates or active ingredients), or the type of business transaction, namely standard or exclusive products.
Fine chemicals are produced in limited volumes (< 1000 tons/year) and at relatively high prices (> $10/kg) according to exacting specifications, mainly by traditional organic synthesis in multipurpose chemical plants. Biotechnical processes are gaining ground. The global production value is about $85 billion. Fine chemicals are used as starting materials for specialty chemicals, particularly pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. Custom manufacturing for the life science industry plays a big role; however, a significant portion of the fine chemicals total production volume is manufactured in house by large users. The industry is fragmented and extends from small, privately owned companies to divisions of big, diversified chemical enterprises. The term "fine chemicals" is used in distinction to "heavy chemicals", which are produced and handled in large lots and are often in a crude state.
Since their inception in the late 1970s, fine chemicals have become an important part of the chemical industry. The total production value of $85 billion is split about 60 / 40 among in-house production by the main consumers, the life science industry, on the one hand, and the fine chemicals industry on the other hand. The latter pursues both a “supply push” strategy, whereby standard products are developed in-house and offered ubiquitously, and a “demand pull” strategy, whereby products or services determined by the customer are provided exclusively on a “one customer / one supplier” basis. The products are mainly used as building blocks for proprietary products. The hardware of the top tier fine chemical companies has become almost identical. The design, lay-out and equipment of the plants and laboratories has become practically the same all over the world. Most chemical reactions performed go back to the days of the dyestuff industry. Numerous regulations determine the way labs and plants have to be operated, thereby contributing to the uniformity
Why choose a career in Chemicals or Fine chemicals industries?
The Chemicals or Fine chemicals is a vital employer in the nation's economy. The chemical industries have become one of the most successful industries in the UK turning over £56.8 billion annually and becoming the UK’s number 1 exporter.
In recent years the sector has experienced enormous growth which now means that there is a huge demand for multi skilled scientists, engineers and IT professionals to join this industry.
This means that this is a very exciting time to join the chemical industries, particularly since the UK is focussing on high profit, low volume speciality chemicals to drive growth.
What personnel are in demand who should contact us?
There are a wide variety of Chemicals related jobs across a range of disciplines. Typically the following personnel can transfer with ease with a little assistance:
Project Managers, Project Engineers, engineers and designers, Piping engineers, Electrical engineers, Mechanical engineers, Civil and structural engineers, Control and Instrumentation engineers, Safety personnel, Technical Safety engineers, Quantity surveyors, planning engineers, document controllers, maintenance and service personnel, plant operators, admin personnel.
There is also a demand for senior commercial and managerial roles (eg.. business development managers, country and sales managers, those with Technical Safety experience, environmental impact assessment, government relations and project management. There is demand for HSE advisors R&D personnel and lab technicians.
In most instances no training will be required prior to placement, but we are able to assist where required. We will put you in touch with employers happy to engage you with your current skills and qualifications.