Chemicalization of the National Economy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chemicalization of the National Economy


a major direction of scientific and technological progress, characterized by the introduction into production of chemical engineering methods, chemical raw materials, and materials and products made from such materials with the aim of accelerating and increasing the efficiency of production and, in the nonproductive sphere, of improving conditions and raising the level of medical, cultural, and everyday services for the population.

Chemical products, such as medicines, paints, acids, and alkalis, have long been used. The chemicalization process, however, began only during the industrial revolution. The textile industry, in which machine production was first used, was also the first significant sphere to which chemicalization was applied—in the bleaching of fabrics with chlorine water and the development of dyeing, which led to a revolution in textile production engineering. The chemicalization of agriculture began in the second half of the 19th century as a result of major advances in agronomy, the development of the theory of the mineral nutrition of plants, and the organization of the fertilizer industry. One of the first results of the new trend was an artificial increase in soil productivity.

The industrial application of advances in polymer chemistry in the 1920’s and 1930’s marked the modern stage of the chemicalization of the national economy. The modern stage is characterized by the use of chemical polymers as raw materials and base materials; the introduction of radically new chemical materials designed to exhibit specific properties and of chemical engineering methods into practically all sectors of the national economy; the use of new organic and inorganic preparations, man-made vitamins, protein substances, antibiotics, chemicals for combatting plant and animal pests and diseases, products for personal use made from chemical raw materials, and household chemical products; and the increasing role of chemical engineering methods designed to replace or augment existing mechanical methods.

The chemicalization of the national economy has been an intensive process. Between 1951 and 1975, the world production of plastics increased by a factor of 24—from 1.63 to 39.0 million tons; during the same period world steel production increased by a factor of only 3.4—from 192 to 650 million tons. The world production of chemical fibers during the period increased by a factor of 6.4—from 1.7 to 11.0 million tons; in contrast, the world production of the principal natural fibers (cotton, wool, flax, and silk) increased by a factor of only 1.7—from 8.4 to 14.2 million tons. In 1950 chemical fibers accounted for 17 percent of the world production of the principal fibers, and synthetic fibers accounted for 0.7 percent; in 1975 the corresponding figures had risen to 44 percent and 33 percent, respectively. The world consumption of mineral fertilizers increased from 15 million tons in 1950–51 to 97 million tons in 1975–76 (here and throughout, figures for fertilizers are based on 100 percent nutrient content).

In the USSR, chemicalization of the national economy played an important role during the industrialization of the country. On Apr. 28, 1928, The Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR adopted the resolution On Measures for the Chemicalization of the National Economy of the USSR. A committee for the chemicalization of the national economy was formed, and it became the organizational center for the development of scientific and technological aspects of chemicalization and the advance of the chemical industry. Between 1929 and 1940, large-scale production was initiated for synthetic rubber, motor vehicle tires, and nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers. In the period before World War II, the use of synthetic rubber increased to 70 percent of the total consumption of rubber. The production of mineral fertilizers in 1940 had increased to 756,000 tons, compared with 17,000 tons in 1913.

In the 1950’s there was a shift from the industrial use of ethyl alcohol produced from foodstuffs to the use of ethyl alcohol manufactured from synthetic materials, and from food fats to artificial fat substitutes, which permitted a significant saving of industrial resources. However, because of the inadequate development of the production of plastics, chemical fibers, mineral fertilizers, and other chemical products, the level of chemicalization of industry, construction, and agriculture remained insufficient at the end of the 1950’s.

Of great importance to developing chemicalization were the resolutions of the Plenums of the Central Committee of the CPSU of May 7, 1958, On Accelerating the Development of the Chemical Industry and Especially the Production of Synthetic Materials and Items Manufactured From Them to Meet the Needs of the Population and the National Economy, and of Dec. 13, 1963, On the Accelerated Development of the Chemical Industry—a Vital Condition for Increasing Agricultural Production and Improving the Living Conditions of the People. Under conditions of the construction of the material and technical basis for communism, the chemicalization of the national economy facilitates the solution of major socioeconomic, scientific, and technological problems: increasing the national wealth; manufacturing new and improved means of production and items for personal use; accelerating scientific and technological progress; and increasing the efficiency of social production.

Chemicalization of the national economy provides for an expanded raw materials base for industry and a saving of natural resources, a wider range and improved quality of materials and manufactured items, a reduction in the cost of the production and use of manufactured items, and an improvement in the structure of the raw materials balance as a result of the increasing use of advanced chemical materials. Between 1966 and 1976, the output of the chemical and petrochemical industry increased by a factor of 3.2, compared with other raw materials industries (ferrous metallurgy and the lumber, woodworking, pulp and paper, and building materials industries), in which production rose by a factor of 2.

In the future, the role of chemicalization will become more important in the development and further improvement of the fuel and energy base as a result of the broad introduction of the underground gasification of coal, the intensification of petroleum refining processes, the large-scale use of such products as methanol and hydrogen as motor fuels, and the industrial use of chemical energy sources.

Extraction industries use chemical solutions in drilling for petroleum and natural gas, explosives in mining ores, reagents in the flotation and concentration of ores, chemical agents for the elimination of coal and other mineral dusts, dispersing agents, and additives (odorants) for natural gas intended for household use.

Chemical technology is commonly used in the metallurgical industry: oxygen blasting, the acid pickling of metals, and the coating of rolled steel surfaces with plastics. In nonferrous metallurgy, an increasingly important role is played by chemical methods for the concentration and extraction of metals, especially rare elements.

In machine building, chemical materials are used for degreasing, etching, phosphating, passivation, carbonitriding, painting the surfaces of machines and equipment, and producing precision castings.

Plastics are used as structural, insulation, friction, antifriction, and decorative materials. Compared with the growth in the output of the machine-building and metalworking industries between 1961 and 1975 (by a factor of 5.4), the use of plastics during the period increased by a factor of 7—from 92,000 tons to approximately 650,000 tons.

In the woodworking and pulp and paper industries, the mechanical and chemical reprocessing of wood is an effective means for conserving lumber resources. Boards and plywood made from lumber scrap and low-quality woods with the use of synthetic resins are effectively replacing lumber. For example, 1,000 cu m of chipboard replaces 2,200 cu m of lumber or 2,500 cu m of round billet. When a high level of chemical and mechanical and chemical reprocessing of wood is achieved, the total economy in construction and in the production of furniture and packaging materials may reach 350–400 million cu m of round billet, the production of which would require more than 3 million hectares of exploited forest.

Light industry uses chemical fibers, artificial leather, and items manufactured from such materials. Chemical fibers expand the possibilities for introducing advanced textile technology into production practice. Chemical fibers usually are lighter, yield more yarn, produce stronger items, and last longer than natural fibers. The greatest economies are associated with the substitution of chemical fibers for natural fibers in the production of industrial fabrics and common textiles and the use of chemical fibers to replace wool and silk and in the production of knitwear and non-fabric materials.

The level of chemicalization in the rubber industry is high. The use of various products has been increasing: high-quality synthetic rubbers such as isoprene and polydivinyl rubbers, and cord and industrial fabrics made from improved types of synthetic fibers, for example, polyamide and polyester fibers. The mass production of truck tires made completely of synthetic rubber has been instituted. The completion of experimental work on the production of liquid rubbers will permit radical improvements in the technology of rubber production.

A major aspect of the chemicalization of the food-processing industry is the use of polymer coatings in packaging, the sausage and confectionery industries, cheese production, and the preparation of preserves (in the lacquer coatings used on tin cans).

A total of 20–25 percent of the plastics manufactured and a significant portion of the synthetic rubber and chemical fibers produced are used in construction. Such products make it possible to achieve considerable weight reductions in buildings and structures, great improvements in the quality of structures (reliable sealing and anticorrosion protection), greater comfort, and an increase in the aesthetic qualities of interiors. Material savings in the period 1966–75 resulting from the replacement of traditional materials with polymer materials amounted to approximately 24 million cu m of lumber and more than 3 million tons of ferrous metals, including 1.4 million tons of steel.

Linoleum, chipboard, and synthetic floor coverings are used in the construction of floors, shelves, and interior walls. Transparent partitions are made from rigid sheets of structural plastic, and external and internal plumbing, gas, and water systems are assembled from plastic pipes. Plastic foams and products made from glass and mineral fibers are used for thermal insulation. Polyethylene coatings are used to waterproof and steamproof structural members and seepage barriers for canals, reservoirs, and dams. Sanitary-engineering equipment made of plastics, films, film wallpaper, and paper-laminated plastics are now widely used.

The use of polymer building materials is a prerequisite for the introduction of modern industrial methods in construction; it makes it possible to reduce weight, simplify structural designs, increase labor productivity, reduce costs, and shorten the time required for construction projects.

The chemicalization of agriculture includes the use of mineral fertilizers, chemical agents for the protection of plants and animals from pests and diseases, agents to combat weeds, chemical products in livestock breeding, and polymer and other chemical materials in land reclamation. An outline of the use of mineral fertilizers in the USSR is given in Table 1.

Table 1. Use of mineral fertilizers in the USSR for various crops1 (1975)
CropFertilizer applied (kg/ha of sown area)Fertilized sown area (percent of total sown area under the given crop)
1On the basis of 100% nutrient content
Cotton ...............39199.5
Sugar beets (for sugar production) ...............39999.4
Grain crops (except corn) ...............4248
Corn ...............15593
Potatoes ...............25493

In 1975, the USSR rose to first place in the world in the total amount of mineral fertilizers used. Use increased from 28.4 kg per hectare of sown area in 1965 to 78.7 kg per hectare in 1976 (on the basis of 100 percent nutrient content). According to standardized data, the additional crop yields for 1 ton of fertilizer in the period 1965–75 were 4.3 tons of grain, 3.8 tons of raw cotton, 29 tons of sugar beets, and 26.5 tons of potatoes.

The scientific use of mineral fertilizers permits not only an increase in crop yield but also an improvement in the quality of agricultural production, for example, an increase in the protein content and improvement of the amino acid composition of proteins in grains. Chemical regulators of plant growth and fruit production are also used; for example, desiccants and defoliants are commonly used to accelerate the maturation of cotton plants, sunflowers, and castor oil plants.

Nutritive phosphates, urea, premixes, nutritive microbiological proteins, and vitamins are used in livestock breeding. Deliveries of chemical feed additives increased from 30,000 tons in 1965 to 516,000 tons in 1976; during the same period the production of nutritive microbiological protein increased from 98,000 tons to 818,000 tons of commercial product. The use of chemical agents in agriculture permits an increase in the productive resources and a significant improvement in all agricultural economic indexes, specifically, a decrease in labor expenditures and increases in the net profit and efficiency of use of fixed capital. Polymer materials and manufactured items are commonly used in agriculture in the construction of hothouses and hotbeds, temporary grain storehouses, irrigating and drainage systems, and water reservoirs. Good results have been achieved with the use of polymers to improve the structure of soils. Between 1971 and 1975, a 40–50 percent increase in crop yields and gross harvests for all agricultural crops was achieved, owing solely to an increase in the use of mineral fertilizers and other chemical agents.

Table 2. Total economic effect of the production and use of chemical products for 1971–75 (in billions of rubles)
*Based on prices for the corresponding years
Capital investments
In the chemical and petrochemical industry ...............15.7
In allied sectors (including expenditures to increase circulating capital) ...............9.3
Total ...............25.0
Increase in profits in the chemical and petrochemical industry between 1970 and 1975* ...............2.9
Savings of current expenditures owing to increased use ...............
For mineral fertilizers and other chemical products in agriculture ...............3.4
For plastics and synthetic resins ...............0.8
For chemical fibers ...............0.8
For products of the rubber industry ...............0.5
Total ...............5.5

The chemicalization of forestry may prove to be of significant benefit. Experimental data have shown that the use of mineral fertilizers and chemical agents for the protection of plants permits a reduction of 3–5 years in the time required for the reproduction of a forest.

The chemicalization of everyday life and services is steadily acquiring greater importance. Chemical products are used in community management for the purification of drinking water and municipal effluents and in mechanized laundries and dry cleaning establishments. The use of synthetic detergents increases the efficiency of highly automated washing machines by 16–25 percent. In housekeeping, there has been an increase in the use of synthetic detergents, stain removers, cleaners and polishes, adhesives, insecticides, cosmetics, varnishes, paints, chemicals for the protection of plants in gardens, photochemical materials, and products in aerosol containers. The use of such products improves household conditions, facilitates housework, and reduces the time required for housekeeping. The rapid development of the chemical industry will make it possible to better meet the needs of the national economy for high-quality chemical materials and the items made from them and to expand the sphere and increase the effectiveness of chemicalization.

Based on the data given in Table 2, the chemicalization factor of the national economy may be defined as the total savings of current costs and the increase in profits to the total costs for the creation of fixed and circulating capital; this factor for the period covered was 0.33, which is significantly higher than the average standardized index of efficiency for the national economy.

In the USSR, measures are also being taken to provide for the proper use of chemical products and to prevent harmful effects on human health and the environment (seeCONSERVATION).


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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