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When people hear the term “petrochemical”, they often think of plastics or some other complex product derived from oil. Either that, or they think of petroleum-based solvents like those used in paints and coatings. In the strictest scientific sense, petrochemicals are a set of very specific chemical compounds, which can be made from oil, natural gas, coal or other sources. The vast majority of petrochemicals, however, are derived from oil naturals gas. Oil and gas are used as feedstocks (i.e., the main raw material used in the manufacture of product) to make approximately 99% the word.

From this base set of petrochemicals comes a very large number of other chemical, which are called, “petrochemical derivatives” or simply, “derivatives”. The derivatives are grouped according to how many steps it takes to convert the basic compound into the new derivative. For example, it takes one step to convert ethylene to acetaldehyde; therefore acetaldehyde can be considered a first-derivative of ethylene. If you go one step further and convert the acetaldehyde to acetic anhydride.