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Chemical raw materials can be broken down into one of three broad categories which are used by a wide variety of industries worldwide. Most basic among the types of raw materials available are crude compounds obtained in impure form from nature, which include products of near-term biological origin such as wood from the forestry industry, mineral deposits, and petroleum. An immediate byproduct of refining some of these materials produces another wide range of chemical raw materials known as industrial minerals. This includes compounds like clay, quartz, and bauxite ore, where the chemicals at this stage of refinement are usually 85% to 98% pure. The next widely-used group of chemical raw materials covers inorganic compounds with a purity of 98% to 99.9%, with examples being purified metal oxides such as iron oxide and synthetic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, NaOH, used as catalysts and reagents for industrial processes.
The most commonly-available and harvested chemical raw material that is regularly replenished by nature is cellulose, followed closely by lignin. Both compounds together make up the bulk of the cellular structure in plant cell walls and the woody portions of trees. Aside from using cellulose and lignin to make raw materials like lumber for buildings or to make paper, the compounds are also vital to the production of biofuels, as a binding agent in glues, and for many other products. As a precursor chemical raw material to many of these commercial products, cellulose and lignin are made into paper or wood pulp, and estimates are that, as of the year 2000, over 334,000,000 metric tons of pulp was being produced globally each year. The largest amount of this at 131,000,000 metric tons is generated from trees, but other sources include recycled paper and crop waste from various types of fibrous plants.
The most frequently used industrial raw materials include quartz, which can exist as gem quality minerals like jasper and onyx, or common sand used to manufacture glass and silicon microprocessors. Petroleum is another industrial raw material that is refined into a wide variety of purified hydrocarbon fuels and hundreds of different types of plastics. Among the mineral based industrial raw materials in great demand by industry are those that contain metals such as lead, iron, and copper. Other very important chemical raw materials for industry include limestone which is used to produce cement and concrete, and kaolin, an aluminosilicate mineral used to make everything from fiberglass to ceramics and paints.
Industrial chemicals are the most highly-refined of chemical raw materials, being almost entirely composed of the active compound. These range across a wide spectrum from ethylene used to manufacture plastics, to ammonia that is used as a fertilizer and solvent. Sulfuric acid, sodium carbonate, and chemical elements like chlorine are also chemical raw materials needed for many manufacturing processes. Other chemical elements that are essential to the industry of the 21st century include nitrogen and oxygen, which are used to control other chemical reactions or accelerate them through oxidation.
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