Minerals used in Organic chemicals and Synthetics
Until little more than fifty years ago, all but a minute proportion of the oil, gas and coal extracted from the Earth was used as a fuel. Today, a substantial fraction of world production (mostly of hydrocarbons) goes to provide feedstock for the production of organic synthetics (see list below). The petrochemical industry produces relatively cheap alternatives to many natural organic and inorganic materials. The technology involved in the manufacture of these substances is complex and only the principal processes employed are mentioned here. The lower unsaturated olefins such as ethylene, C2H4, provide the starting points from which many synthetic molecules are made. These olefins are obtained largely from the paraffins in crude oil by high-temperature cracking procedures which rupture long carbon chains and remove excess hydrogen; they can be subsequently combined with molecules containing oxygen or chlorine in addition to carbon and hydrogen. Once formed, these varied compounds provide building blocks for the synthesis of high polymers in which thousands or tens of thousands of atoms are linked. Polymerisation gives analogues of molecules in wood, silk, cotton, rubber and other natural substances for which the synthetic materials can substitute. A selective list of products is given in the table below:
Derivatives of hydrocarbons and coal (other than fuels).
Extracted from crude oils and their derivatives:
Polymers of hydrocarbon derivatives
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