A commonly used term in different industries is “specialty”—to the point of nearly robbing the word of its original meaning. To make sure you are using the right chemicals for your projects and needs, it’s important that you know the differences between specialty chemicals vs commodity chemicals.
What Is the Difference?
First, let’s clear up what commodity and specialty chemicals are. Commodity chemicals are, as the name suggests, common chemicals that can be produced in bulk quantities by a large number of chemical manufacturers. The production quality of these chemicals varies little, being developed in a very standardized form with exact compositional matches.
Specialty chemicals, on the other hand, are more exclusive when it comes to the manufacturers able to produce them. These chemicals are geared toward specific services and customer needs, rather than general use. Specialty chemicals are often restricted to specific manufacturers because of patents, but as those patents expire and market demand grows, specialty chemicals can become commodity chemicals over time.
Examples of specialty chemicals include antibiotics, adhesives, or pesticides, as they are made in low volumes to address particular needs. For instance, antibiotics are tailored to address the issues of a specific disease. Because of this niche use, antibiotics are only made in low volumes as they become necessary. However, as chemical research and development advances, specialty chemicals become much more efficient to produce and may transition into a commodity chemical.
A commodity chemical that has become completely interchangeable is known as a “fungible” material. This means there is absolutely no difference between one manufacturer’s product and another. This is the biggest difference between specialty chemicals vs commodity chemicals, as the commodity chemical is entirely standardized, and you know exactly what you will get from it. An example of a fungible chemical is natural gas.