The origins of the petrochemical industry can be traced back to the 1920s when simple organic chemicals such as ethanol and isopropanol were first prepared on an industrial scale from by-products (ethylene and propylene) of oil refining. This oil-based petrochemical industry, with lower olefms and aromatics as the key building blocks, rapidly developed into the enormous industry it is today. A multitude of products that are indispensible to modern day society, from plastics to pharmaceuticals, are derived from oil and natural gas-based hydro- carbons. The industry had its heyday in the '50s and '60s when predictions of future growth rates tended to be exponential curves. However, two developments that took place in the early '70s disturbed this simplistic and optimistic view of the future. Firstly, the publication of the report for the Cub of Rome on the 'Limits to Growth' emphasized the finite nature of non-renewable fossil fuel resources. Secondly, the Oil Crisis of 1973 emphasized the vulnerability of an energy and chemicals industry that is based largely on a single raw material.
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