Rubber is a Universal Resource

Rubber is essential to modern life and natural rubber, in particular, is highly sought-after because of its high strength, resistance, elasticity and plasticity. Between 2000 and 2016, global demand for natural rubber nearly doubled to 12.6 million metric tonnes, and the upward consumption trend shows no signs of stopping.

Compared to synthetic rubbers, natural rubber has several advantages. Its higher molecular weight and stereoregular microstructure mean that it has higher tensile strength, excellent cut and tear resistance, and is slow to heat up during repeated stress deformation – a critical property needed for tyres, particularly for large or industrial vehicles.

Unlike synthetic rubbers, which are derived from oil, its price is not affected by the continual rise in oil prices. Furthermore, as natural rubber comes from trees, it is a natural, sustainable and renewable resource.

Rubber Applications

From tyres to shoe soles to medical gloves to seals and gaskets, natural rubber is used in countless products spanning every sector.
Tyres make up the largest use of natural rubber, accounting for about three-quarters of all demand. All tyres contain natural rubber because of its higher strength and resistance compared to synthetic rubbers. In passenger car tyres, natural rubber makes up about 15 to 20 percent of the materials used. Tyres for trucks, buses, aeroplanes and other heavy or specialty vehicles need even more natural rubber – about 35% or more by content – because of the high stresses and changing temperatures of their operating environments. Natural rubber builds up less heat from flexing and does not tear as easily as synthetic rubbers at high temperatures.

Three global trends are expected to cause radical changes in the tyre industry leading to greater use of natural rubber: the world’s transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, which will improve sales of electric vehicles; and the rise of autonomous vehicles and growing shared ownership of cars, both of which will put automobiles on the road more often and trigger more frequent tyre replacements.

Besides being able to withstand temperatures ranging from about minus 50 to 105 degrees Celsius, natural rubber is also resistant to water and abrasion, tolerant of alcohols, acids and alkalis and has very good compression set resistance – it bounces back to its original shape after a force is applied to it. Hence its use in seals and gaskets. Natural rubber is also commonly used to make tubes, hoses and pipes because of its resistance and tolerance qualities. The material is resistant to creeping, sagging and stretching.

Natural rubber compounds are also used to line machines used in the chemical industry because of their resistance to a wide variety of chemical solutions. Natural rubber is also used to make pads and mounts for machines to cushion and protect them against vibrations. The material can also be sprayed onto surfaces to provide a coating that prevents electrical shock and resists moisture, acids, corrosion and slipping.

Latex films form an excellent barrier against pathogens, including viruses, which is why they are used to make condoms and gloves. Many sectors require the use of natural rubber gloves to handle delicate or potentially hazardous objects such as scientific samples, drugs, foodstuffs and electronic components. Many adhesive tapes use natural rubber as the glue because of its advantageous chemical structure. It consists of long polymer chains, so mixing it with resin to make it sticky creates an adhesive that is both extremely flexible and mobile even at low temperatures where other substances would become solid and brittle.

Many gyms, commercial kitchens, playgrounds and other facilities pave their floors with natural rubber pads because the material is shock-absorbent, slip-resistant and water-proof. It is also long-lasting and easy to maintain. Natural rubber is also the material of choice when it comes to making moulds because of its high tensile strength. It can withstand up to 3,500 pounds per square inch (PSI), whereas synthetic silicone rubbers can handle at most 1,400 PSI.