Sectors Of The Chemical Industry

Kate Onissiphorou

by Kate Onissiphorou

24th August 2022

The chemical industry comprises several sectors that specialise in providing different products and services, including:

  • Life sciences
  • Science & technology
  • Organic chemicals
  • Inorganic chemicals
  • Pharmaceuticals

These are the major sectors in the chemical industry, and can be further subdivided into niche sub-sectors. Some sub-sectors are highly specialised and produce only one type of product or service. For example, the petroleum sector can be considered a sub-sector of the organic chemicals industry. As a sub-sector, it mainly focuses on refining crude oil into useful fuel products such as gasoline and diesel.

Various sectors of the chemical industry can also be classified as industries in their own right, such as the pharmaceutical industry. However, the umbrella and more generic category is still related to chemical processing or chemical manufacturing.

Exploring the sectors of the chemical industry

The chemical industry in the UK makes a significant contribution to the national economy, with more than 3,700 companies representing various sectors and sub-sectors of the industry.

According to the European Chemical Industry Council (Cefic), the UK chemical industry contributed over £28 billion to the local economy in 2020, while exports totalled around £53 billion. This is a significant contribution that translates into employment opportunities and business transactions. The industry directly employs more than 161,000 people. Pie chart showing total UK manufacturing output divided into sectors

The UK’s chemical industry represents 12% of the total manufacturing output of the country and is only second to the transport equipment industry in terms of total revenues. The total output of the chemical industry translates to about 1.5% of GDP. 

What is a chemical sector?
A chemical sector is a part of the wider chemical industry that specialises in a particular type of product or service. It manufactures, processes, or synthesises certain chemical products or offers services, such as chemical repackaging and chemical bottling.

ReAgent Chemicals repacking line

Although a company can be part of several sectors of the chemical industry, the majority predominantly belong to one. For example, a vitamin and food supplement manufacturing company is part of both the pharmaceutical and organic chemical sectors, but it’s predominantly a pharmaceutical business. 

Read on to learn about some of the main sectors of the chemical industry in the UK.

Life science chemicals

Biotechnologists, microbiologists, and other life science specialists use life science chemicals as an analytical tool for marking, identifying, and analysing specimens. These chemicals are also used as precursors to active pharmaceutical ingredients, or APIs. They’re typically called acetyls because they contain an acetyl group.

The life science chemical manufacturing sector is very important to both scientific-academic R&D and practical pharmaceutical R&D, providing the necessary precursors of many pharmaceutical products and biosimilars. The products produced have a wide range of applications, especially in medicine and biological research.

Science and technology
The science and technology chemical sector includes companies that manufacture specialised reagents, precursors, biological buffers, laboratory test chemicals, and other similar products. It also includes businesses that provide custom chemical blending and special formulations.

Science and technology chemicals are mainly used for R&D. They range from laboratory chemicals to industrial chemicals used in the mass production of end-user chemical products. These products can either be for B2B purposes or consumer use. Science and technology chemicals cover many other sectors and industries that use various types of chemical products, including polymers.

Organic chemicals industry
The organic chemical industry includes petroleum refineries, plastic or polymer manufacturers, fertiliser and pesticide companies, paint and ink manufacturers, glue and solvent manufacturers, and other companies that deal with hydrocarbon-derived products. A worker wearing latex gloves manufacturing purple paint in a factory.Hydrocarbons include aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, and xylene.

Organic-based products are virtually ubiquitous, especially in the form of plastics, synthetic fibres, fibreglass, and synthetic rubbers. From toothbrushes to car panels, organic-based materials dominate our daily lives. 

Inorganic chemicals industry
Before the widespread use of hydrocarbon-derived synthetic materials, the inorganic chemical industry was the most dominant chemical manufacturing sector. By definition, inorganic chemicals are those that do not contain carbon or carbon chains as the main molecular backbone of a compound.

The most common inorganic compounds that have industrial applications are nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, and halogen compounds. 

Inorganic compounds that are mass-produced also include acids and bases, and their salts. The inorganic chemical industry is a chemical manufacturing sector that produces inorganic fertilisers, explosives, cleaning products, and many other household products.

Pharmaceutical manufacturing
The pharmaceutical manufacturing sector focuses on developing and mass producing all sorts of therapeutic drugs and other pharmaceutical products. It plays an important role in medicine and maintaining human health. Person wearing PPE working in a pharmaceutical laboratory

From simple infections to chronic and life-threatening diseases, the pharmaceutical industry helps to treat various conditions. The market value of the pharmaceutical industry in the UK is estimated at £21 billion per annum, and the sector employs more than 63,000 people.

At ReAgent, we specialise in manufacturing customised chemicals for companies from a wide range of chemical sectors. Contact our friendly team today to discover how we can help your business.

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