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The petrochemical industry refers to several companies that produce organic compounds from fossil fuels like petroleum. Petrochemical products create goods like lubricants, paints, plastics and cosmetics. This is separate from the petroleum industry, which produces fuels that are used for transportation, heating and energy. The United States and Western Europe have been the main centers of petrochemical production since World War II. Today, though, countries in Asia and the Middle East are developing processing centers to support their own petrochemical manufacturing.
Petrochemicals are mainly produced using petroleum, but other compounds like fossil fuels, such as natural gas and coal, can be used as well. In some locations, petrochemicals are actually produced from corn, sugarcane and other types of agricultural sources. This is most commonly done in areas that don't have a lot of fossil fuel sources but do have a large amount of agriculture. The production of petrochemicals begins in a refinery where fossil fuels are separated into lighter products. These products are then processed into various types of petrochemicals, like synthetic gas and benzene. This part of the process is called “cracking” and is carried out with either chemical catalysts or heat. These petrochemicals are then used to manufacture consumer or industrial goods.
The petrochemical industry has provided an alternative in the manufacturing sector. Synthetic materials can now be derived from petrochemicals, meaning that manufacturing does not completely rely a natural substances anymore. Several goods that are on the market have synthetic materials that were derived from the petrochemical industry. Many of these materials are found in packaging. It's important to carefully regulate petrochemical production because it can be a highly hazardous process. Because high temperatures and volatile compounds are used, there's a high risk of chemical explosion and fires.