Frequently Asked Questions

How much oil is used to make plastic?

Although crude oil is a source of raw material (feedstock) for making plastics, it is not the major feedstock for plastics production in the United States. Plastics are produced from natural gas, feedstocks derived from natural gas processing, and feedstocks derived from crude oil refining.

Natural gas is used for process heat in the production of precursor chemicals and plastics and as a feedstock for those precursor chemicals. Petrochemical feedstock naphtha and other oils refined from crude oil are used as feedstock for petrochemical crackers that produce the basic building blocks for making plastics. However, the primary feedstock for U.S. petrochemical crackers are hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL), of which 82% were byproducts of natural gas processing in 2014. The remaining 18% of the HGL were produced by U.S. refineries and contain both alkanes and olefins. Alkanes can used as feedstock for petrochemical crackers, whereas refinery olefins, primarily propylene but also minor quantities of ethylene and butylenes, can be used as direct inputs into plastics manufacturing.

Lean more:
Energy Explained: Refining Crude Oil
Energy Explained: Hydrocarbon Gas Liquids

Last updated: April 25, 2016

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