Today’s society is a society heavily reliant on chemicals. The main reason why demand for industrial and agricultural chemicals has grown so rapidly in recent years is simply the corresponding growth in technological and scientific breakthroughs, combined with the growing world population. As far as agricultural chemicals, more people are alive to be hungry so more food must be mass produced in situations that may be suboptimal for growth, so more and more chemicals are required to provide nutrients and kill pests. As far as manufacturing, the global trade never ceases and so endless quantities of acids and other chemicals for the production of everything ranging from plastics to glue to solvents to soaps must be constantly pumped out of chemical plants.
Despite the common knowledge that the United States churns out massive amounts of product each year, many people are still surprised to hear how many millions of tons of chemicals we actually produce correspondingly. The top 10 chemicals produced in the United States annually are listed by largest quantities below, along with information about their geographical production and practical applications.
1. Sulfuric Acid
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 36 million tons
Sulfuric acid, also called oil of vitriol, is a colorless and odorless corrosive liquid. It is highly corrosive to metal and tissue, and will char organic materials such as wood on contact. When dissolved in water, it releases heat. It is produced by extracting sulfur to sulfur dioxide and then to sulfur trioxide before finally fumed into sulfuric acid.
Sulfuric acid in the United States is mostly produced in the southern states such as Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona, although it is fairly widely distributed in the rest of the states as well. A majority of the sulfuric acid produced is used in manufacturing of agricultural fertilizers. Other uses include production of detergents, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and antifreeze. It is also used for applications such as water treatment, paper sizing, and oil well acidizing.
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 14.3 million tons
Propylene is a colorless gas that has a faint odor reminiscent of gasoline. It is obtained as a byproduct of petroleum oil during the gasoline refining process, specifically from the cracking of hydrocarbons or the catalytic dehydrogenation of propane. It is usually shipped as a liquefied gas kept under pressure by its own vapor.
Some of the largest US propylene plants are located in Texas and Pennsylvania. Propylene is mainly used in industry as fuel or a fuel additive, as well as a part of plastic and rubber manufacturing for a variety of applications.
3. Sodium Hydroxide=d
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 14 million tons
Sodium hydroxide is a highly corrosive, caustic substance that takes shape as an odorless, white, crystalline solid at room temperature. When dissolved in water it can ignite and combust.
Sodium hydroxide is manufactured primarily in Texas and Louisiana by causticization of calcium hydroxide with sodium carbonate; from sodium chloride using electrolysis; or from sodium metal and water vapor at low temperatures. It is used in a huge range of applications including as a processing additive, food additive, herbicide, absorbent, bleaching agent, plasticizer, or adhesive.
4. Sodium Carbonate
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 11 million tons
Sodium carbonate is a disodium salt and produces carbonic acid and sodium hydroxide when dissolved in water. It is a strong base that can neutralize acidic chemicals.
A large part of the sodium carbonate manufacturing in the US takes place in Wyoming. There are several processes for manufacturing sodium carbonate. Some of the most common involve grinding and calcining trona into soda ash and synthesizing it from limestone using the Solvay process. It is used in a variety of applications but most notably in the glass and brick making industries.
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 8 million tons
Ammonia is a colorless, basic inorganic compound of nitrogen and hydrogen. It is usually found in its gaseous form, which has a strong and characteristic odor. In it’s gaseous form, it is one of the most abundant nitrogenous compounds present in Earth’s atmosphere.
Ammonia is produced all over the US, but concentrated towards the central eastern states, by several methods including reduction of atmospheric nitrogen and hydrogen using the Haber method, as a by-product of coal distillation, from the natural or accelerated decomposition of nitrogenous materials, or by the action of steam on calcium cyanamide. The bulk of industrial ammonia is used in fertilizers, followed by household and industrial cleaning and bleaching products.
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 5.8 million tons
Benzene is a highly toxic and flammable liquid hydrocarbon. It is clear and colorless in its liquid form, with a gasoline-like odor and highly volatile properties.
Benzene is primarily produced as a byproduct of coal distillation It is used as an industrial solvent in gasolines, paints, varnishes, and many other applications. It is also a precursor to many chemicals, most notably styrene.
7. Acetic Acid
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 5.4 million tons
Acetic acid is a simple carboxylic acid with strong antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is often found as a colorless, clear liquid that smells strongly of vinegar.
This acid is produced by the oxidation of ethanol as well as by the destructive distillation of wood. It is heavily used in the industrial manufacturing of plastics such as polyvinyl acetate. Other applications include uses as a counterirritant or cleaner.
8. Ethylene Oxide
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 4 million tons
Ethylene oxide is present at room temperature and pressure as a colorless, flammable gas. Exposure to the gas is highly toxic and irritating and can increase risks of cancer and many other diseases.
Ethylene oxide is used in many cleaning and sterilizing products as it successfully disinfects against bacteria, fungi, spores, and viruses. It is also one of the major components of antifreeze, as well as a widely used chemical intermediate for many different industries.
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 3.4 million tons
Formaldehyde is a highly reactive gas that is toxic in large quantities. It is colorless and readily soluble in water.
Formaldehyde is produced in almost every state in the US by oxidation or incomplete combustion of a variety of hydrocarbons. It is widely used in the production of textiles and resins; as a component of cleaning products; and as a medical and laboratory preservative.
Quantity Produced in the US Per Year: 2.4 million tons
Methanol is a colorless, flammable liquid. It is toxic upon ingestion and the gas may cause blindness. The simplest alcohol, it has a distinctive odor reminiscent of ethanol but slightly milder.
Methanol is produced widely across the US and used primarily in the manufacturing of formaldehyde and acetic acid, in antifreeze, and as an industrial solvent.