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Fine Chemicals and Specialty Chemicals

By Thomas Huang December 11th, 2023 114 views


Fine chemicals and specialty chemicals are the classifications specialized as per specialty functions existing by some experts in Europe and the United States.
They were called collectively as fine chemical industry before. In addition to Europe and the United States, there are many countries that still collectively refer to them as fine chemicals.
According to this phenomenon, this article lists the classification table and then explains the heavy and fine chemicals based on the below table, so you have a general idea. Finally, describe the fine and specialty chemicals, so you will clearly understand them.
 Classification in other countries  Classification in Euro and U.S.A
Chemicals  Heavy Chemicals
 Commodity chemicals
 Pseudo Commodity Chemicals
 Fine Chemicals  Fine Chemicals
 Specialty Chemicals

I, Definition:

1.1 Heavy chemicals

It is known as general chemicals or bulk chemicals, which are the mass-produced most basic chemical raw material products made via one or more chemical processing from cheap, readily available natural resources and other basic raw materials.
Chemicals examples:
Nitric acid (HNO₃), sulfuric acid (H₂SO₄), hydrochloric acid (HCl), sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), synthetic plastics, synthetic rubber, and synthetic fibers.
photo of Large scale chemical plants
With the characterises of:
ᆞWide range of applications,
ᆞLarge production batch sizes,
ᆞLarge-scale production equipment,
ᆞLow added value.

1.1.1 Commodity chemicals

Commodity chemicals are undifferentiated chemicals (a chemical that has a fixed melting or boiling point and whose structure can be identified by its molecular or structural formula.)  that are produced in large quantities. 
For examples:
Inorganic acids, bases, and salts, as well as some simple reagents for organic.

1.1.2 Pseudo Commodity Chemicals

Pseudo Commodity Chemicals are differentiated chemicals that are produced in large quantities, e.g., plastics, synthetic fibers, synthetic rubber, etc.

1.2 Fine Chemical ( Classification in other countries)

The chemical products that with the one or more of the following properties :
ᆞHaving a specialized function,
ᆞTechnolgoy-intensive of research, development, manufacturing, and application.
ᆞThe formulated technology can determine product performance,
ᆞHigh value-added,
ᆞHigh yield,
ᆞSmall batch,
ᆞHaving many varieties.

1.2.1 Fine chemicals

They are undifferentiated chemicals produced in small batches.
For example:
Raw material pharmaceuticals ( API ), raw material pesticides, raw material dyes, etc.
photo of examples of fine chemicals

1.2.2 Specialty chemicals

Specialty chemicals are manufactured because of their performance or function. They can be single-chemical entities or formulations whose composition influences the performance and processing of the end product. 
Differential chemicals are produced in small quantities, e.g., pharmaceutical preparations, pesticide preparations, commercial dyes, etc.

II, The features of Fine Chemicals and Specialty Chemicals

2.1 R & D

According to the information from Japan, the knowledge density of the chemical industry is 248, the mechanical industry is 100, and the pharmaceutical industry has reached 340.
The R & D success chances of Fine Chemicals and Specialty Chemicals are low, which require a long time, but a high cost.
The quality requirements for fine chemicals and specialty chemicals have a lot of quality standards sorted by different products in different applications.

2.2 The production feature

2.2.1 Small batch, multi-species, compounding type mostly.

Compared with petrochemicals and other large chemical tons, that have the feature of millions of tons of continuous production,  the fine chemicals and specialty chemicals are generally small quantities and scale.
Comprehensive production processes and multifunctional production units, mainly batch production.

2.2.2 Technology-intensive

Fine chemicals and Specialty chemicals market competition is fierce, so the renewal of the product is fast.
"Comprehensive production process and multi-functional production unit" is also called flexible production unit, refers to the same set of production units, the use of similar production processes, different raw materials to produce a variety of products, equipment, strong dual-use, and high utilization rate.

2.2.3 Batch production

Fine chemicals and Specialty chemical equipment also have "light, thin, short, small" characteristics.
Their production is often more suitable for batch production, the use of smaller batch equipment to alternately produce a variety of products, should not blindly pursue continuous, fully automated production.
photo of batch reactors
Batch reactors are typical equipment for batch production

2.3 Economic Characteristics


High value attached.


High Investment Efficiency.


High profitability.
Fine chemical products, the technical key to the formula, often the final performance of the product plays a decisive role. The formation of the patent formula monopoly is relatively strong, mastery of the product formula is to make the product, and the enterprise has the key to market competitiveness.


short return period.

2.4 Business Characteristics


Exclusive business, technology confidentiality.


Emphasis on market research, to adapt to market demand; with the application of technology and technical services, such as technical counseling, technical training, technical support, and so on.

III, The scope of Fine Chemicals and Specialty Chemicals

The scope of them is very wide, its development with the chemical industry.
In the beginning, the scope was only pharmaceuticals, dyes, and spices. 
Then following the rise of the three major materials of the petroleum industry,  the fine chemicals and specialty chemicals include stabilizers, plasticizers, additives, catalysts, etc.
Including products of over 40 types:
Pharmaceuticals, pesticides, synthetic dyes, organic pigments, coatings, fragrances and flavors, cosmetics and toiletries, soaps and synthetic detergents, surfactants, printing inks and their auxiliaries, adhesives, photographic materials, magnetic materials, catalysts, reagents, water treatment agents and polymer flocculants, paper auxiliaries, leather auxiliaries, synthetic materials auxiliaries, textile printing, and dyeing agents and finishing agents, food additives, feed additives, animal drugs, oil field chemicals Animal drugs, oilfield chemicals, petroleum additives, and refining aids, cement additives, mineral flotation agents, casting chemicals, metal surface treatment agents, synthetic lubricants and lubricant additives, automotive chemicals, aromatic deodorizers, industrial anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents, electronic chemicals and materials, functional polymer materials, bio-chemicals, and so on.

IV, The Fine Chemicals and Specialty Chemicals companies

The world's most developed fine chemical and specialty chemical powers are in the United States, Germany, and Japan, the output of their products ranked first, second, and third in the world. 
ᆞThe United States:
DuPont, Dow Chemical Company.
BASF AG, Farbwerke Hoechst AG,Degussa AG and Bayer AG.
Asahi Kasei Corporation, NIPPON FINE CHEMICAL Co.Ltd

V, Fine chemicals vs. Specialty Chemicals


Fine chemicals are single compounds, while specialty chemicals are often formulated products;


Fine chemicals have a wider range of uses, while specialty chemicals have a narrower range of uses;


Fine chemicals are generally manufactured by one method or a similar method, while specialty chemicals can be produced by different manufacturers or even completely different;


Fine chemicals are sold by chemical composition, while specialty chemicals are sold by function;


The life cycle of fine chemicals is long, while that of specialty chemicals is short, with rapid product replacement;
Specialty chemicals have higher added value, higher profit margins, and are more technology-intensive.


Fine chemical products are the raw material for specialty chemicals in certain applications.
photo of fine chemical and specialty chemical differernce

VI, FAQ about the fine chemicals and specialty chemicals:

6.1 Commodity chemicals vs. Specialty chemicals?

A specialty chemical usually has just one or two core applications.
However, a commodity chemical could be used in dozens of different methods.

6.2 What are the most common specialty chemicals?

Specialty chemicals include pesticides, antibiotics, and adhesives. They are made in small batch to meet particular needs.

6.3 What is a specialty chemical company?

Specialty chemistry produces high-value-added products, which are mostly end products for many important markets including performance chemicals, agricultural chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.

6.4 What are the types of specialty chemicals?

ᆞAdhesives and sealants;
ᆞcosmetic chemicals;
ᆞelectronic chemicals;
ᆞfood additives;
ᆞflavors and fragrances;
ᆞhigh-performance thermoplastics;
ᆞhigh-performance anticorrosion coatings;
ᆞindustrial and institutional cleaners;
ᆞlubricating oil additives;
ᆞoil field chemicals;
Photo of specialty chemicals

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