Technologies involved in the production of fine chemicals
Fine chemicals are rapidly becoming one of the front runners of the chemical industry in the UK – however, production can be difficult, as they can only be produced in limited quantities by multiple different steps, in batches. The production of fine chemicals involves a number of different technologies – the global production value of fine chemicals is close to $85 billion. Fine chemicals are single, pure chemicals substances which are produced in multi-purpose plants. They are produced in low quantities but have a relatively high cost. They are sold on specifications and have very specific applications.
Chemical synthesis can either take place from petrochemical starting chemicals or natural product extracts. Petrochemicals are chemicals products derived from petroleum or obtained from fossil fuels such as coal. Some well-known examples of petrochemicals include ethylene, benzene and propylene. Natural product extracts can include a wide range of different products, usually found in plants.
Biotechnology is a prominent technology in the production of fine chemicals. Fine chemical production involves three different areas of biotechnology – biocatalysis, biosynthesis and cell culture technology. Biocatalysis involves natural catalysts performing a chemical transformation on specifically organic compounds. Biosynthesis is a complex process in which substrates are converted into more complex products.
During the production of fine chemicals, extraction of different products from animals or plants may be required. Isolation and purification will take place during this, usually for extraction of alkaloids, antibacterials and steroids. Natural products from organisms provide many fine chemical extracts needed for applications in the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetic industries. Animal and plant by-products are a rich source of such materials, such as proteins, hormones and polysaccharides.
Hydrolysis of proteins takes place during the production of fine chemicals, in which proteins are broken down into their constituent amino acids. This is a fairly simple process, involving heat being applied to the protein with the presence of a catalyst for a long period of time. The reaction isolates the amino acids for use in the production of fine chemicals.
Despite these technologies being very important, mastering them does not give any specific competitive advantage. The production of fine chemicals can be carried out in multipurpose plants. Reaction-specific equipment, however, is readily available on the market, so utilising these technologies is not difficult, and could possibly save you some time overall. The installation of such equipment is relatively simple too.