Industrial Inorganic Chemicals, NEC

SIC 2819

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

Establishments primarily engaged in mining, milling or otherwise preparing natural potassium, sodium, or boron compounds (other than common salt) are classified in SIC 1474: Potash, Soda, and Borate Minerals; establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing household bleaches are classified in SIC 2842: Specialty Cleaning, Polishing, and Sanitation Preparations; those manufacturing phosphoric acid are classified in SIC 2874: Phosphatic Fertilizers; and those manufacturing nitric acid, anhydrous ammonia, and other nitrogenous fertilizer materials are classified in SIC 2873: Nitrogenous Fertilizers.

Industry Snapshot

The inorganic chemicals industry makes up the bulk of basic chemical production. Inorganic chemicals are those derived from inanimate earth materials such as minerals and the atmosphere. They are differentiated from organic chemicals, which are derived from plant and animal sources. Organic chemicals are based on carbon; inorganic chemicals are based on all other naturally occurring and synthetically produced elements.

The major chemicals within this classification are known as "basic" chemicals. They are also sometimes referred to as "heavy," "bulk," or "commodity" chemicals. Manufacturers typically produce them from ores or brines, or as co-products or by-products of other processes. They serve industrial users who put them to work in the creation of other products. Some common applications include processing aids and chemical catalysts. Inorganic chemicals are also used as ingredients in nonchemical products. The primary markets for chemical products are paper, housing, automobiles, water treatment, fertilizer, petroleum refining, steel production, manufacturing, and soap and detergent production.

Sulfuric acid is by far the largest volume inorganic chemical. It is used primarily as a chemical reagent in a variety of industrial processes with the largest end use in fertilizer production. About three-fourths of domestic sulfuric acid is used for phosphate fertilizer.

Hydrogen peroxide is a rapidly growing sector of the inorganic chemicals industry. Pulp and paper manufacturing account for more than half the demand for hydrogen peroxide as it becomes a more viable option than chlorine for the chemical bleaching of paper. It is also used to remove ink from paper before the recycling process. Other uses for hydrogen peroxide are in water and waste treatment and for bleaching textiles.

Organization and Structure

Chemical producing companies range in size from small establishments providing a single chemical to multinational corporations offering thousands of different chemical products. The Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) was established to represent the industry's interests in local, state, and national affairs. According to the CMA, the industry's challenge was to balance self-interests with those of its many publics--legislators, regulators, the courts, and, especially, employees and neighbors.

Historically, regulators proved a large and demanding public. Several governmental agencies existed to regulate specific facets of the industry. For example, regulations covering railroad shipments of hazardous materials were instituted following the Civil War; and during the closing years of the 1800s, the Bureau of Chemistry (within the U.S. Department of Agriculture) was responsible for overseeing the safety of chemicals used in foods and drugs.

Governmental efforts to ensure product safety, establish worker safety laws, and protect the environment intensified during the 1970s, beginning with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. The decade brought the following host of new regulations: revisions of the Clean Air Act (1970 and subsequent amendments), the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970), the Resource Recovery Act (1970), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (1972), the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), amendments to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (1972), the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976). The 1980s opened with the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (also known as the "Superfund" Act).

Federal regulations mandated that new chemicals be evaluated for safety before use, that new uses of existing chemicals be evaluated, and that all chemicals meet specific safety and health standards. In addition, governmental bodies regulated by-products and co-products, controlled transportation, and monitored waste disposal. In her 1984 work Toxic Substances Controls Primer Mary Devine Worobec noted that "Virtually every chemical and substance used in the United States is subject to some type of control. During manufacture, workers who are exposed must be monitored. During use, by-products are created that must be treated in specified ways and when use of a substance is completed, the wastes that remain must be disposed of in approved ways. And at each juncture, the chemical must be transported to the site of the next stage in a proper manner."

Background and Development

The first attempt to identify the "elements," basic indivisible materials, resulted in a list of four substances: earth, air, water, and fire. The ancient Greeks identified nine modernly recognizable elements: gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead, tin, iron, sulfur, and carbon. As elements and compounds were identified and understood, they were put to work. Early uses for chemicals included dyeing, bleaching, tanning, brewing, embalming, baking, mining, and cleaning. Chemicals were also important to the development of art and medicine.

One of the first products of the chemical industry was borax. A naturally occurring compound containing sodium, boron, and oxygen, borax was known to the Babylonians and Egyptians. Marco Polo inaugurated trade in borax between the Far East and Europe. Another early product (still traded in modern times) was alum. Alum was used during the fifteenth century to stop bleeding, and served as an additive to dyes to improve their ability to adhere to fabrics.

The modern inorganic chemicals industry has its roots in the discovery of the elements. The first element discovered since the time of the ancient Greeks was phosphorous. A German alchemist, Henning Brand, discovered it in 1669 during his attempts to make gold. Modern applications of phosphorous include matches (invented in 1831) and tracer bullets.

During the 1700s, a Dutch chemist decomposed borax to make boric acid. French chemists further decomposed the boric acid and discovered the element boron. Uses of boron compounds in the twentieth century have included water softeners, cleansers, fiberglass, gasoline additives, rocket fuel, fire-proofing and fire-fighting compounds, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soldering flux. One of the most well known products is Pyrex glass. Pyrex glass is made with boron oxide to reduce the amount of expansion that occurs upon heating. As a result, unlike regular glass, Pyrex is not susceptible to cracking during heat changes. Boron has also been used as a neutron-absorbent material to help control nuclear energy during power production.

In 1730, innovative procedures led to the production of sulfuric acid on a commercial scale. The corrosive substance had been used since the eighth century for a variety of purposes including tanning, tin-plating, brass founding, and hat and button making, but the time-consuming methods employed created only weak acid. Changes introduced by Joshua Ward and improved upon by John Roebuck during the eighteenth century led to the industry's ability to produce stronger acid in greater volumes. By the end of the twentieth century, sulfuric acid topped the list of the most widely sold inorganic chemicals.

Other eighteenth-century discoveries included Georg Brandt's identification of cobalt, Axel Cronstedt's discovery of nickel, and Nicolas Vauquelin's identification of chromium. Cobalt chloride achieved popularity as an invisible ink, and in 1948 cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope, was found to be helpful in treating cancer, preserving foods, and sterilizing medical supplies. Nickel, previously thought to be a form of copper, was used to strengthen gold, silver, and copper. Twentieth-century applications have included use in high-strength magnets and household appliances. A chromium compound developed in 1913 by Harold Brearely, an English metallurgist, became widely known as "stainless steel." By the late eighteenth century, 30 elements were known.

During the early nineteenth century, researchers learned more about separating the components of naturally occurring compounds. It was a time of rapid discovery, and many more ingredients used by the modern inorganic chemicals industry were identified. For example, Sir Humphry Davy, an English scientist, discovered sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, barium, and strontium. A French chemist, Bernard Courtois, accidentally discovered iodine during experiments with seaweed in which he was trying to produce sodium nitrate to make gunpowder for Napoleon's army. Antoine Balard, another French chemist, discovered elemental bromine. Although pure bromine is poisonous, compounds have been used as sedatives and in synthetic dyes. Silver bromide, a light-sensitive compound, is a critical component used to produce photographic film. In gasoline, bromine serves as an antiknock additive. Johann Afrwedson, a Swedish chemist, discovered lithium. Lithium, a light alkali metal, weighs only one-fifth as much as aluminum and burns when exposed to air. Copper and steel manufacturers exploited this tendency and used lithium to eliminate gas pockets that occurred during metal fabrication. Lithium compounds were also used during World War II to lift emergency radio antennas. They have also served as solid rocket fuels.

In 1860, German chemists Robert Bunsen and Gustav Kirchhoff discovered cesium. Cesium was the first element to be found with a light spectroscope, a device used to measure the light given off from a heated material. According to spectroscopic theory, no two materials emit the same light pattern. Each element has its own "fingerprint." Cesium, an element that easily releases its electrons when exposed to light, was later used in the development of television and space technologies.

Another discovery made during the 1860s was the creation of elemental fluorine by the English chemist George Gore. Gore succeeded in creating only a small amount of fluorine, however, which spontaneously exploded. In 1886 Henri Moissan, a French chemist, developed a way to produce fluorine in platinum vessels without explosive results. In the twentieth century, fluorine has been used in the separation of uranium for atomic weapons, as a component in liquid rocket fuel, and in combination with carbon to make fluorocarbons. Fluorocarbons have been used to replace ammonia in refrigeration systems and as propellants in aerosol cans (before they were banned due to their damaging environmental impact). Fluorine has also been used as a water additive to prevent tooth decay.

The 1860s also brought the development of synthetic dye manufacturing in Germany. The German synthetic dye producers evolved into world chemical production leaders. BASF (Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik), for example, was established in 1861 originally as a manufacturer of alkali and related products. A BASF chemist enabled the company to expand by developing a method to produce alizarin (a yellowish-red compound) on a commercial scale. Other large German dye companies were Hoechst and Bayer. By the early twentieth century, the German companies held almost 90 percent of the world's dye production ability.

The Dow Chemical Company, founded in 1897, originally sold bromine and chlorine. The first additions to its product line included chloroform, sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Soon after, other corporations joined the roster of chemical manufacturers. They included the Hooker Electrochemical Company (1905), American Cyanamid (1907), Shell Chemical (1912), and Occidental Chemical (1920).

One of the biggest influences on the early twentieth century chemical industry was World War I. During this period, governments sponsored research and guaranteed purchase contracts for finished products. As a result, chemical companies developed new products more quickly than would have been economically possible during times of peace. Following World War I, the German chemical companies regrouped and formed IG Farben, the largest chemical group outside the United States. According to one estimate, IG Farben employed one out of three chemical workers in Germany by 1928. After World War II, IG Farben was divided back into the three largest companies that had merged for its creation: BASF, Bayer, and Hoescht.

In the United States, DuPont invested its war profits by expanding into production of rayon, plastics, ammonia, heavy chemicals, insecticides, electrochemicals, paints, pigments, and varnishes. American Cyanamid, originally a producer of fertilizers, also expanded. New areas included chemicals and chemical catalysts.

During the 1920s, mergers and acquisitions expanded the political influence held by U.S. chemical companies. Allied Chemicals was formed in 1920 through the merger of five previously existing chemical companies. Allied specialized in heavy inorganic chemicals and dyes. Union Carbide was founded in 1920 from three previously existing firms. Domestic chemical producers benefited from reduced foreign competition in the years between World War I and World War II. The Fordney-McCumber Act of 1922, for example, required that imported chemical products be sold at the same price as domestically produced chemicals. As a result, the chemical industry was one of the fastest growing industries in the country. By 1935 the combined value of the 26 U.S. chemical companies was estimated at $1.7 billion.

World War II brought increased demand for chemical products. These included chemical weapons, bombs, and incendiary devices, as well as a host of new products designed to meet the demands of developing technologies such as aviation. Other products developed by the industry included flame proofing and waterproofing materials. From 1947 to 1978, U.S. chemical production increased 900 percent. During the 1970s, however, environmental issues came to the forefront of the nation's conscience and challenged the safety of many products produced by the inorganic chemicals industry. The Environmental Protection Policy Act of 1970 established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and subsequent legislative and regulatory efforts had far-reaching effects on the industry. For example, the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 gave the EPA authority to regulate chemicals posing a risk to the environment or to human health.

Nevertheless, expansion continued. By the mid-1980s approximately 60,000 chemicals were being used in the United States, and new industrial chemicals were being developed at a rate of about 1,000 per year. Concerns about safety also escalated, and waste disposal methods were criticized. In 1984 Lee Niedringhaus Davis, a writer specializing in the social impact of high technologies, wrote: "Each person now contains within his or her body a mixture of poisonous chemicals that no generation throughout humankind's entire history ever accumulated. Their long-term consequences we can only guess at."

Chemical-producing companies employed numerous methods to reduce the amounts of waste generated. Among them was recapturing and reusing materials previously discharged, using wastes as raw materials for other products, increasing the efficiency of chemical reactions, using waste materials as energy sources, and processing wastes into products by finding innovative uses for them. As companies began to change their views about waste materials, terminology changed. According to Davis, the increasing popularity of the term "co-product" reflected a changing attitude where substances previously discharged as polluting wastes were instead viewed as potential products.

In 1987 the U.S. Department of Commerce reported that the value of shipments within the inorganic chemicals industry totaled $13.2 billion. Products were provided by approximately 700 establishments. About half of these firms were small companies that produced small volumes of specialty chemicals. These types of establishments accounted for only 4 percent of the industry's total shipments, but according to government projections, demand for specialty chemicals was expected to grow faster than demand for commodity chemicals.

The 1990s brought more questions about pollution and environmental health concerns. One chemical under increasing criticism was hydrofluoric acid (HF). Overall demand for HF, an ingredient in the manufacture of chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs), was falling during the early 1990s as a result of CFC phaseouts. Some industry analysts expected demand for the chemical to continue declining, but others anticipated a rebound as CFCs were replaced with chemicals containing greater percentages of HF.

Hydrofluoric acid, however, has many other uses. It has been commonly used for the manufacture of other chemicals, aluminum production, stainless steel pickling, and as an octane booster in the petroleum industry. Some well-known end products created with HF technology included computer screens, fluorescent light bulbs, semiconductors, and fluoride toothpaste. Despite its widespread use, Audubon magazine called HF "the most dangerous chemical in town." Hydrofluoric acid, a hazardous material, boils at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, spills of the chemical form dense, low-lying toxic clouds. One accident in 1987 sent more than 1,000 people to the hospital.

A legal action against Mobil Oil Company in California led to the issuance of a consent decree in 1990 requiring all refineries in the state to stop using HF by the end of 1997. Industry watchers estimated that nationwide consumption of HF by gasoline refineries totaled 40 million pounds per year. Nevertheless, only half the gasoline refineries in the country depended on HF; the rest relied on sulfuric acid. According to Mobil, expenses related to switching from HF to sulfuric acid were expected to approach $100 million. Sulfuric acid, although still considered a hazardous chemical, posed less danger than HF. Sulfuric acid has a much higher boiling point, 625 degrees Fahrenheit, and as a result, remains in a liquid state if spilled. Because sulfuric acid does not boil at naturally occurring ambient temperatures, the threat of toxic cloud formation is eliminated.

Since the early 1990s, the largest single chemical produced within the industry has been sulfuric acid. In 1991, producers generated 43 million tons of the chemical. Although some sulfuric acid was manufactured as a by-product of smelting operations and some was regenerated from previously used acid, most was created through the oxidation of sulfur.

Annual demand for sulfuric acid topped 45 million tons by the mid-1990s. As the petroleum refining industry turned away from HF, some industry watchers predicted increased domestic demand for sulfuric acid. Others, however, expected no overall demand increase because of its reduced use in historically important markets, such as rayon production. Sulfuric acid has been used in phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers, ore processing, inorganic pigments, inorganic and organic chemicals, pulp and paper manufacturing, synthetic rubber production, plastics, water treatment, and soaps and detergents.

In the 1990s hydrazine faced environmental and safety challenges. Approximately 40 percent of the hydrazine produced in the United States was used as an anticorrosion agent in boilers. Users began turning to alternative products, however, after hydrazine was identified as a carcinogen. Some hydrazine producers began promoting closed handling systems to permit customers to continue using hydrazine without exposing their workers to dangerous concentrations of the chemical.

One chemical product benefiting from the increased emphasis on environmental safety is hydrogen peroxide. Although production volumes fell short of other products in the early 1990s, its growth rate and potential were notable. A report published in 1993 suggested that the North American hydrogen peroxide market was expanding at a rate of about 10 to 12 percent annually. One of its primary uses has been as a substitute for chlorine in the pulp and paper industry. Other areas of growth include the detoxification of cyanide used in gold mining, laundry and cleaning products, chemical manufacturing, water treatment facilities, and pollution control. More potential users of hydrogen peroxide are the textiles industry, suppliers of laundry products, electronics manufacturers, and food processors.

EPA Limits on Toxic Pollution.
In March 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency announced long-expected regulations regarding toxic air pollution as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act. Under the rule, "The nation's chemical companies will have to cut their plants' toxic air pollution by almost 90 percent from 1990 levels," according to the Detroit Free Press. "The rule requires the companies. . .to install equipment to better prevent evaporation and leaks of 112 toxic chemicals." Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner called it the most far-reaching effort ever taken to reduce air toxins. Prior to the new regulations, only 13 air toxins were federally regulated, with others regulated in varying fashions at the state level. To meet requirements, the EPA estimated that approximately 370 chemical plants across the nation would be forced to cut toxic air pollution by a total of 506,000 tons. The Detroit Free Press pointed out that "the chemical industry will have to spend $450 million on capital improvements and another $230 million a year in ongoing costs to satisfy the requirements, which will go into effect in most cases within three years." The Free Press also noted that chemical companies had, in many cases, already initiated efforts to improve their pollution emissions in anticipation of the EPA ruling. Company spokespersons for Dow Chemical and Upjohn, for instance, said that both companies had reduced air pollution levels at their plants by more than 50 percent.

The chemical industry as a whole experienced a slow recovery after a national economic slowdown during the early 1990s. The demand for hydrogen peroxide was 1.0 billion pounds in 1994 and 1.1 billion pounds in 1995. However, in 1996 the pulp market crashed. As the pulp market used 60 percent of all hydrogen peroxide in North America, the pulp and paper industries dictated to a large degree the livelihood of hydrogen peroxide. The market had been going so well up until then that hydrogen peroxide makers were not incredibly hurt by the sudden decrease in activity, and some manufacturers welcomed the opportunity for maintenance.

Gains in the fertilizer market caused the demand for sulfur to increase 5 percent from 1993 to 1994. Another healthy gain occurred in 1995 due to increased fertilizer consumption. Sulfur sales were expected to remain closely tied to U.S. and world fertilizer demand.

Sulfuric acid recovered well in 1995 from reduced levels in 1993 and 1994. In March of 1994, the industry hit bottom with prices falling to $8 and $9 per ton. By 1995, sulfuric acid was up to $35 per ton, beginning to approach the $50 per ton record high of the late 1980s.

The healthy market in the mid-1990s was due to an increase in demand for phosphate fertilizers and more use by the copper industry. As copper prices doubled in the first two months of 1995, more sulfuric acid was suddenly needed as copper miners tried to extract as much copper as quickly as possible. Another contributing factor was that imports of sulfuric acid from non-Canadian sources were almost nonexistent in 1995. The import rate had dropped from 684,000 metric tons in 1993 to 333,000 metric tons in 1994. Shipping prices from Germany, for example, were more expensive per ton than the sulfuric acid was worth.

During the 2000s, the chemical industry fluctuated along with the ups and downs of the economy. When the U.S. economy crashed in the early 2000s, demand for chemicals began to wane. This decline was exacerbated by a weakening global economy, which undermined exports. Shipments of basic inorganic chemicals dipped from a peak of $15.7 billion in 1998 to $12.7 billion in 2001. The next year, however, sales rebounded to $14.0 billion and increased further to a new high of $15.8 billion in 2005. In 2004 shipments of inorganic potassium and sodium compounds totaled $1.8 billion, and shipments of inorganic acids, except nitric, sulfuric, and phosphoric, were $356 million. Sulfuric acid shipments totaled $408 million, a decrease from $619 in 2001. Collectively, the industry's 629 establishments shipped $15.8 billion worth of products in 2005.

Current Conditions

According to Dun and Bradstreet's (D&B) 2009 Industry Reports, revenues in the industrial inorganic chemical (not elsewhere classified) industry reached $25.8 billion in 2008. D&B figures showed that 2,029 establishments employed 63,797 workers in the overall industry. Texas accounted for the highest percentage of sales by far, with $9.8 billion, followed by Maryland ($3.3 billion), Utah ($1.8 billion), Connecticut ($1.52 billion), and Oklahoma ($1.51 billion).

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 90 percent of sulfur produced in the United States in 2008 was consumed in the form of sulfuric acid. As predicted by some industry experts, demand for sulfuric acid rose sharply in the late 2000s, as did prices for the chemical. While production of elemental sulfur reached 8.4 million tons, consumption totaled 12.8 million tons. As a result, prices skyrocketed from about $36.29 per ton in 2007 to $100 per ton in 2008. Prices were expected to remain high into the early part of the 2010s. attributed the increase in demand for sulfuric acid to active agricultural and base metals markets, while production at oil refineries was decreasing.

Industry Leaders

The leader of the inorganic chemical industry in the late 2000s was Dow Chemical Co. of Midland, Michigan. In 2008 Dow had $57.5 billion in sales and 46,102 employees. Dow Chemical Co. was founded in 1897 by Herbert Henry Dow, and its first two products were bromine and chlorine. Other products added during the company's early years included sodium, magnesium, calcium, synthetic dyes, chemical fertilizers, food preservatives, solvents, and caustic soda. Throughout the twentieth century, Dow acquired other companies and diversified into many areas including chemicals, plastics, hydrocarbons, energy, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products.

Dow was an early pioneer in toxicology work. The company established its first toxicology laboratory in 1933 following the deaths of workers from chemical exposure. Dow was also working to reduce the environmental impact of its products and manage solid wastes in a more responsible manner. In 1991 Dow created a Corporate Environmental Advisory Council, the first of its kind in the industry. The council was composed of professionals from the government, education, environmental protection, and scientific communities who met together to discuss issues concerning environment, health, and safety.

Other leaders in the industry were E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. of Wilmington, Delaware, and FMC Corp. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. DuPont had revenues of $31.8 billion and employed 60,000 people in 2008. The firm had facilities in some 65 countries around the world. The FMC Corp. reported sales of $3.1 billion in 2008 with 5,000 employees. FMC divisions held top positions in several segments of the inorganic chemicals market: the firm was the world's leading producer of soda ash, and its Peroxygen Chemicals Division was one of the world's largest producers of hydrogen peroxide, serving such customers as the pulp and paper, textile, detergent, electronics, and environmental industries. FMC Foret S.A., the company's European division, supplied products to a variety of users including other chemical manufacturers and the detergent industry.

One newcomer to the industry was not actually a newcomer in the strictest sense of the word. Solutia Inc., based in St. Louis, Missouri, posted 2008 sales of $2.1 billion and had 3,700 employees. The firm was spun off by Monsanto Corp. as part of its effort to focus on the life sciences industry. Debt related to this spin-off forced the firm into Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2003. The company emerged from bankruptcy in early 2008.


D&B reported that 63,797 people were employed by the industrial inorganic chemical (not elsewhere classified) industry in 2008. Employment in the industry had declined in the 1980s; the U.S. Department of Labor estimated that 107,000 were employed by the industry in 1981. Employment figures continued to decline in the early 1990s. However, the 2008 figure showed an increase from 47,052 workers in 2004. According to D&B, Texas employed the most people in the industry in the late 2000s, followed by New York, Pennsylvania, and California.

One of the major issues confronting the industry's labor force was worker health and safety. The chemical industry has had a long history of exposing its workers to hazardous situations. For example, in the latter half of the 1800s, the Leblanc method of reacting sulfuric acid on salt to produce alkali created hydrochloric acid gas as a by-product. The hydrochloric acid gas rotted workers' teeth, led to chronic bronchitis, and caused skin ailments. Moreover, industrial accidents involving chemicals often resulted in greater harm to workers and the environment than accidents in other industries.

To address the needs of workers, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. The Act created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) within the U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA's responsibilities include establishing safe standards for chemical exposure and keeping workers informed of potential risks. Chemical companies also began to address safety needs with greater vigor and introduced increasing numbers of voluntary measures to help ensure employee and public safety.

Research and Technology

As the chemicals industry evolved during the twentieth century, the cost of investigating and developing new products was very high. Many new compounds studied by researchers were rejected because they failed to meet expectations, were too expensive to produce, or posed safety problems. Another related problem was rapid obsolescence of products and related manufacturing methods. Because technologies changed so quickly, new products were sometimes outdated before their developing companies could recapture costs associated with research and development. Additionally, as technologies changed, many manufacturing methods also became obsolete.

By the early twenty-first century, many products within this industrial classification were considered basic commodities. As a result, research activities to develop new products were conducted with less vigor than in other segments of the chemical industry. Instead of focusing on new product development, most research focused on ways to reduce production costs by reducing labor costs, cutting energy needs, improving process efficiencies, and finding new applications for existing products. Researchers also investigated ways to meet environmental mandates by curtailing emissions, putting waste products to work, recapturing materials, and rendering hazardous substances inert.

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