The chemical industry can be simplified into two main parts – fine chemicals, which are pure and complex, and bulk chemicals, which are made in huge quantities. Fine chemicals provide the means for things like drugs, fragrances, and additives in food. Some examples of bulk chemicals are ammonia, sulfuric acid, and sodium hydroxide, which are all made at large chemical plants via a variety of different processes. There are significant differences between the two front-runners of the chemical industry.
These are chemicals that are made on a very large scale in order to satisfy global markets – which is why they are sometimes referred to as commodity chemicals. Organic chemicals are produced by organic synthesis, which has many different steps and processes involved. Both inorganic and organic bulk chemicals are manufactured in continuous process chemicals plants as opposed to batch manufacturing chemical plants (which is how fine chemicals are produced). In the UK specifically, there are 4 main chemical plants that produced most of the country’s bulk chemicals – near the River Mersey, on the East coast of Yorkshire, in Grangemouth and in Teesside. The basic manufacturing goal of bulk chemical plants is to produce bulk chemicals on a large enough scale that costs are kept as low as possible, to make the maximum amount of profit. Some notable examples of these chemicals acetone, acrylic acid, biodiesel, castor oil, glycerine, and white spirit.
Fine chemicals, as opposed to bulk chemicals, can only be manufactured in small, limited quantities in plants by batch or biotechnological manufacturing processes. There are, however, many small and complicated steps in the making of fine chemicals – like chemical synthesis, biotechnology, extraction, and hydrolysis. These chemicals were conceived in the 1970s, and have since become an important part of the chemical industry in the UK. The products, while extremely useful, usually have to be combined with other chemicals and substances in order to reach their full potential. Generally, they provide the building blocks for many different products that no doubt you use every single day. Some examples of these include pharmaceuticals, biocides, fragrances, additives, and pigments. Fine chemicals, to sum up, have to be combined with other substances to create these products. They are much more expensive to produce than bulk chemicals, due to their complex and changing the chemistry. Both bulk chemicals and fine chemicals are vital to the chemical industry, and provide us with everyday items and products that we don’t necessarily notice, but would definitely miss.