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What are xylenes?

Xylenes are extracted or distilled from reformate, a stream derived from the refining of high-octane motor gasoline. They can also be produced from toluene using the disproportionation process. They are colourless, sweet-smelling liquids that are very flammable.

Xylenes occur as three isomers, each having two methyl groups attached to a basic benzene hydrocarbon ring. The type of isomer is distinguished by the position of the methyl groups on the ring. Para-xylene has the methyl groups attached on opposite sides of the ring, ortho-xylene has the two methyl groups next to each other, while meta-xylene has them positioned with one carbon in between the two groups. Shell chemicals companies primarily supply xylenes as a mixed stream, although various processes can be used to separate and/or convert the isomers.

How are xylenes used?

Some mixed xylenes are used as solvents and in the printing, rubber, and leather industries. However, most mixed xylenes are separated and the individual isomers consumed in specific end-uses. Para-xylene is primarily used as a feedstock for terephthalic acid, a key component in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins. Ortho-xylene is used in plasticisers, medicines, and dyes.

Mixed xylenes are also a desirable gasoline component, but are blended less often than toluene because there is greater demand and higher value in their chemical applications.

What are our key strengths in the xylenes sector?

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

Shell chemicals resources