What Are Specialty Chemicals?
Specialty chemicals are chemicals that are made and used based on specific functions. Also commonly known as performance chemicals, they generally have one or two specific purposes or applications.
Performance chemicals are tweaked to match particular customer, consumer, or industry needs. They start with a commodity chemical as the base, and additives are mixed in to alter the chemical composition of the solution. Chemical composition is the sole determinant of how a chemical will perform.
Specialties can be directed towards certain markets or certain functions. Market-oriented products will appeal to specific customers or industries, like:
- electronic chemicals
- cosmetic chemicals
- pharmaceutical chemicals
- oilfield chemicals
- construction chemicals
Functional chemicals are created to appeal to specific needs, like:
- water treatments
Basically, any specialty chemical is created with the intention of serving a specific purpose.
What Are Commodity Chemicals?
Also known as bulk chemicals, this type of chemical composes a very broad range of simple chemicals that are produced to meet the needs of the global market. These are basic chemical compounds that have simple compositions. There is little to no variation from manufacturer to manufacturer because the composition is extremely well-calculated.
Commodity chemicals are divided into two classes: inorganic and organic. Inorganic commodities include:
- hydrogen peroxide
- sulfuric acid
- hydrogen fluoride
Organic commodities include:
- vinyl chloride
Some of these commodities are used as-is, while some become aspects of other mixtures or specialty chemicals.
How Are They Different?
As you have likely already noticed, there are quite a few differences between these types of chemicals. Let’s dive deeper into what exactly differentiates specialties from commodities:
- Manufacturing. Commodity chemicals are produced in large factories by a high volume of different manufacturers. Specialty chemicals are produced in smaller factories with less prevalence.
- Continuous versus batch processing. Commodities are always produced continuously, meaning they are manufactured without interruption and in bulk quantities. On the other hand, specialties are made through batch production, which means that they are only produced as needed in small amounts.
- Function. As previously mentioned, commodities have a ton of uses, and can even be transformed to meet a different range of uses when combined with other commodities. Specialties, as the name implies, are limited to their intended use, and do not have a range of applications.
- Availability. Since performance chemicals are not constantly made, they are not easily accessible. Also, some specific types may require certain patents or authorizations, so they may only be produced by certain manufacturers. Bulk chemicals are easy to make and are easily accessible.