The Essential Chemical Industry website

Industrial chemistry

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During my education in chemistry at school there was something slightly elusive about the concept of the ‘chemical industry’. I knew it involved huge plants and spat out tonnes of polymers and ‘commodity chemicals’. But my understanding of exactly how that happened was painted with broad strokes.

What if you have a student who wants to understand the detail of industrial chemistry? I’d guess that this is a general challenge for chemistry teachers, since those who have industrial experience are a minority.

If you want to help your bright spark students delve into the details of industrial chemistry more thoroughly, The Essential Chemical Industry website is for you. It is an online reference library providing background information on up to date innovations in the chemical industry (be honest: when was the last time you read up on these?), as well as on important industrial chemicals.

You can discover, for instance, exactly how phenol is produced. It surprised me to learn that it involves oxidation of isopropylbenzene at over 80ºC and pressures of up to 7 atmospheres. That’s not the first reaction that would have occurred to me. But that illustrates the point: industrial chemistry is unfamiliar to most chemistry students, with factors like economies of scale and safety determining choices about how chemistry is done.

Teachers who want to try presenting some of these concepts to their classes will find ample help on this website. Whether it’s information on catalytic cracking or how distillation works at the scale of tonnes, you’ll find the details here.

As the feature on green chemistry points out, this generation of chemistry students will in the future be helping industrial chemistry face up to the big challenges it must overcome to become more environmentally friendly. Teachers who at least think about how to provide them a head start will be doing their students, and society, a favour.