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Author: Dr Kelvin Klemm

( Article Type: Explanation )

The petrochemicals industry is broadly defined as that industrial activity that uses petroleum or natural gas as a source of raw materials, and whose products are neither fuels nor fertiliser.

The petrochemicals industry begins with oil refineries or extracting plants built to remove ethane and higher hydrocarbons from gas streams. In the case of South Africa, SASOL is a world leader in extracting a range of petrochemicals from coal. The original coal gasification process was pioneered by SASOL because one of the few raw materials that South Africa does not possess is oil.

The petrochemicals have a range of complex names for groups such as Alkenes, Olefins and Aromatics. Individual chemicals form a long list and have names such as ethylbenzene, formaldehyde, dichloroethane, toluene and many more.

Many of the petrochemicals are then further processed to manufacture the everyday items that we see around us such as plastic, lipstick, polystyrene and nail varnish remover.