A Young Industry

Petrochemistry is a fairly young industry; it started to grow in the 1940s, more than 80 years after the drilling of the first commercial oil well.

During World War II, the demand for synthetic materials to replace costly and sometimes less efficient products was a catalyst for the development of petrochemicals. Before the 1940s it was an experimental sector, starting with basic materials:

  • synthetic rubbers in the 1900s
  • bakelite, the first petrochemical-derived plastic in 1907
  • the first petrochemical solvents in the 1920s
  • and polystyrene in the 1930s…

And it then moved to an incredible variety of areas – from household goods (kitchen appliances, textile, furniture) to medicine (heart pacemakers, transfusion bags), from leisure (running shoes, computers…) to highly specialised fields like archaeology or crime detection.

Performance and Versatility

Petrochemicals are used in the fields of health, hygiene, housing and food, to name but a few of its thousands of application. However, petrochemicals are not something you can buy. They are industrial products that undergo several transformations before being used in products. As a result, few of us make the connection between the petrochemical industry and their applications. Although benefiting daily from end products that have been made thanks to the input of the petrochemical industry, more often than not we see no obvious connection between these everyday commodities and petrochemistry.

What are Petrochemicals?

Chemicals derived from petroleum or natural gas and an essential part of the chemical industry


Find out more about the processes that allow crude oil, natural gas and LPG to be turned into petrochemicals and petrochemicals into products.


Take a tour at the timeline of petrochemistry discoveries.


Find out more about specific petrochemical products.