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What is toluene?

Toluene is produced primarily by reforming naphtha during the manufacture of gasoline. It is a clear, colourless liquid, with a characteristic ‘aromatic’ smell. Toluene has low volatility due to the methyl group (CH3) in its chemical structure, which makes it a good octane-enhancer for motor gasoline blending.

How is toluene used?

Currently, three grades of toluene purity are available in the market: TDI, nitration, and commercial. 

TDI grade toluene is used to make isocyanates, which are combined with polyols in the manufacture of polyurethanes. In turn, polyurethanes are used in a wide variety of consumer goods, such as foams for furniture and bedding, coatings for floors and furniture, artificial sports tracks, ski suits and waterproof leisure wear. 

Nitration grade toluene is widely used in the solvent market and also in the production of phenol, particularly in Europe. 

Both nitration and commercial grades are used as feed in the hydrodealkylation process, which strips off the methyl group from toluene to make benzene. These grades are also used in the disproportionation process, which removes the methyl group from one toluene molecule and attaches it to another, resulting in one benzene and one xylene molecule. 

Toluene is produced in very large quantities, most of which is never removed from the gasoline manufacturing streams. Most commercial grade toluene is returned to the gasoline pool as a blend component resulting in higher-octane grades.

What are our key strengths in the toluene sector?

  • Global manufacturing and supply capabilities.
  • Access to key feedstocks within the Shell Group.
  • Manufacture of high purity product.
  • Active commitment to working to understand the health and environmental effects of aromatic chemicals.

Shell chemicals resources