Airedale Chemical

The Evolution of the Chemistry Industry

4th June 2018

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Despite chemicals being used in one way or another throughout history it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that the chemical industry as we know today began. We are going to look back over the past, looking at the early years, the revolution and the adaptation of the chemical industry in the modern era.

The start of chemical manufacturing

Although chemical manufacturing on a commercial scale didn’t take off until the 19th century it can be traced back thousands of years. It is thought that the first forms of chemical manufacturing were in 7,000BC where alkali and limestone were combine by middle eastern men to make glass.

Then around the 10th century A.D the Chinese combine saltpetre and sulphur to create an explosive solution like gunpowder, known as black powder.

Between the 10th century and the middle ages alchemist continued to experiment with different chemicals but it wasn’t until pilgrims in 1635 started using chemicals for tanning and gunpowder that showed the world the impact that chemicals can have on industries.

Chemical Manufacturing in the Industrial Revolution

With alchemy becoming increasingly popular before the 18th century the industrial revolution was seen as the perfect time to produce chemicals on a larger scale. One of the first chemicals produced in bulk was sulfuric acid, which is still one of the most recognised chemicals in the industry today over 250 years later.

Before sulphuric acid was produced in large quantities fabric was bleached using other means but even though the process was made more efficient it wasn’t until the breakthrough by Charles Tennant when he manufactured bleaching powder that the chemical industry took off. After opening a factory in 1799 the production went from 52 tons to almost 10,000 tons in just five years thanks to his combination of chlorine and dry slaked lime solution.

Sulphuric acid plants were built across the world between 1740 and 1810 including Britain, France, Russia and Germany. With the first Soda plants being built in the same period between 1793 and 1892 across the same countries. Soda ash at the time was used for producing soaps and glass and it was this that lead to further advancements in organic chemistry.

The advancements meant that companies could produce synthetic dyes from coal tar which allowed the textile industry to expand in the 1850s.

Chemical Manufacturing during the 19th & 20th Century

The 19th century saw the explosion of the chemical industry in terms of both quantity and more importantly quality. France, Belgium and Britain were among the first to adopt chemicals on an industrial scale but by the time World War 2 started petrochemicals were being used in both Germany and the USA.

After world war 2 the previously used organic chemicals such as coal were less popular and petrochemicals took precedence in a shift across the industry. It was Britain that held the leading position in the market up until 1975 when Germany began to take the lead, and through concentration on high level scientific and technological development it maintained a monopoly on the global chemical market.

America didn’t get involved until after a lot of European countries but in the early 20th century the introduction of the manmade fibre Rayon in the textile industry by the American Cyanamid Company revolutionised the agriculture industry.

This revolution along with the increasing interest in petrochemicals meant that in the late 20th century America had 54% of the globe chemical production. Companies such as Shell, BP, and Exxonn started to produce chemicals from the petroleum which had a dramatic impact on oil prices and therefore the manufacturer of petrochemicals and polymers.

The Modern Era

Since the industrial revolution and post WW2 the chemical industry has thrived and instead of the market being dominated by a few global companies there are now small, medium and large chemical manufacturers located across the world. The estimated value of the chemical industry in 2016 was $4,378.7 billion, and this is set to continue to grow even further by 2021.

At Airedale we are set on providing the best quality chemicals to businesses across the UK and Europe so if you are looking for a chemical manufacturing partner then get in touch today.

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