The petrochemical industry

Which resources are used by the petrochemical industry? Are these renewable or non-renewable resources? (Kai Bastos)

The petrochemical industry uses resources such as fossil fuels (in other words, crude oil). Crude oil is made up of a mixture of hydrocarbons which are mostly alkanes. Crude oil is used to make petrol, diesel, as well as medicines and plastics. The petrochemical industry processes natural gases - such as methane, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide - as well as crude oil to make hydrocarbons which are called petrochemicals.

In South Africa, we import natural gases and oil because we do not have large reserves of our own. In 2004, South Africa imported 19 million tonnes of crude oil and natural gas. South Africa's contribution was only 1 million tonnes. Natural gases that can be used to make petrochemicals have been found in gas fields around South Africa in recent years, although they are not large enough for South Africa to not be reliant on imports. (Hendricks, A. & Sadeck, M. & Spies, A. Focus on Physical Sciences, Grade 12, chapter 7, page 231).

Sasol and PetroSA convert coal into gas, and then into petrols. This is another way that companies can make petrols.

They are also developing ways of making bio-fuels naturally, by using biomass. This involves fermentation of sugars in plants to create bioethanol. Biodiesel is also being researched and is made by transesterfication, which is exchanging the free radical of an ester with one in an alcohol. These biofuels use renewable resources, and help to prolong the life of the petrochemical industry all over the world.

The fossil fuels used by the petrochemical industry are non-renewable because they take millions of years to form underground.

Steam reforming by which fossil fuels such as natural gases are reacted with steam at a very high temperature to create hydrogen, which, on small scales, is used to make fuel cells. This is not very popular with environmentalists, as Carbon Dioxide is released during the reaction, so people would not favour this because it is believed that Carbon Dioxide speeds up the process of Global Warming. However, it is a popular process industrially, as it is the cheapest way to reform natural gas to form hydrogen.

In this reaction, steam reacts with methane with a nickel catalyst to make Hydrogen and Carbon Monoxide as follows:

CH4 + H2O → CO + 3 H2

Then, the carbon monoxide is reacted with water to make carbon dioxide and hydrogen as follows:

CO + H2O → CO2 + H2

Economic and social benefits of petrochemical industry (Kai Bastos)

The fuel taxes that a South African company such as Sasol would contribute are R30 billion per year, making the economic benefits of this industry, although smaller in South Africa than those in Iran, Saudi Arabia etcetera, are very large, which is why their economies rely heavily on oil for trade. Sasol also produces other chemical products, such as alcohols, waxes, synthetic fuels, and ammonia to trade locally and internationally. As Sasol produces 41% of fuel in South Africa, it benefits the South African economy greatly because it means that South Africa does not have to spend as much money on import costs when buying crude oil from other countries. The social benefits of producing so much fuel locally include growing South African pride locally, as well as making people buy South African fuel if they can because they are biased towards locally made products. It is also socially beneficial because they (Sasol) are innovating and finding ways to use less coal and making synthetic fuels, prolonging their existence, as they would be out of business if they had continued to rely solely on fossil fuels in the future.

What products are manufactured by sasol?

-ammonium nitrate (Kai Bastos)

Ammonium Nitrate is one of the many products made by Sasol. Ammonia is reacted with nitric acid to form ammonium nitrate solution as follows:

HNO3(aq) + NH3(g) → NH4NO3(aq)

Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer.

-ethene (Kai Bastos)

Ethene is used with a catalyst to create polythene. Ethene is made through the distillation of oil and then steam cracking. It is used as a plant hormone to control ripeness.

Hendricks, A. & Sadeck, M. & Spies, A. Focus on Physical Sciences, Grade 12

http://www.ausetute.com.au/ethene.html

http://chemicalland21.com/industrialchem/inorganic/Ammonium%20Nitrate.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil_fuel_reforming

http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/N/AE_natural_gas_steam_reforming_production.html

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