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What is Rubber Made Of?
Oct 18, 2018

Commercial rubber is a product that is important to the convenience of our everyday lives. We find it in our tires, our shoes, our flooring, adhesives, and in a plethora of small items that are all made from rubber—while the products themselves may be small in size, their significance is usually much larger. In any case, rubber is made from two main sources: naturally-produced latex and petroleum. If you want to know what is rubber made of, then you have to know about the distinct kinds of rubber that exist. Some rubber is produced naturally on plantations, and then there are rubber companies that create synthetic elastomers from petroleum by-products. At your local rubber shop, a high number of different synthetic rubbers can be found, along side natural rubbers, and recycled ones. Let us not forget about recycled rubber, which is made from old tire crumb and then processed into various forms used for a number of applications. Tires are made from a combination of NR and petroleum-based raw materials. Thus tire crumb will have some content of both products. Odds are most of the consumer goods that are sold off the shelf in a rubber store, or online, are evenly distributed between synthetic and recycled products. It is the more complex applications that require products with sophisticated features, and they use synthetic products. Automotives, aerospace, and OEM producers need parts that preform well under sever conditions.

Natural rubber is produced on plantations in South America and Southeast Asian; it is extracted from the tree Hevea brasiliensis. The tree is “wounded” with a slight incision; as a part of its natural healing process, a substance is secreted from the wound—this is the latex material which is treated and turned into sheets of natural rubber that can be used for applications. These trees are typically able to produce the latex for twenty-five years, with a seven year period of time for maturation to complete. Substances such as fillers, pigments, softeners, antioxidants, and vulcanizing agents are added to the latex material to make it suitable for use in commercial rubber products. An electrical charge is even run across the compound to prevent an unwanted coagulation. While there are some chemical processes involved with natural rubber, the important part of its production is that it is harvested from trees naturally. Large production of rubber in plantations are primarily in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, as these three countries contribute to over half of the world’s natural rubber supply. Along the same lines a firm or rubber shop in these countries is far more to producing parts from natural rubber.

Synthetic rubber is petroleum-based and is produced virtually completely through chemical processes. For one to understand how synthetic rubbers are formed, they must also understand the concept of polymerization, the process by which single monomers (or units) are fused together to create larger polymers; in the case of rubber, that polymer has a chain-like form which gives it its unique properties. Minimum of 100 units are needed to create a polymer that will exhibit any sort of unique qualities. Scientists looked hard to find a compound that would mimic both the properties of rubber, as well as its chemical makeup. One of the first of these compounds was formed from styrene and butadiene, and thus the rubber it produced was called styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR). Synthetic rubbers are usually named for the products from which they are derived, such as nitrile or EPDM (made from ethylene and propylene). The rubber itself is produced through emulsions of these products, as well as other agents that make it suitable for use, such as fillers and other items which will strengthen the product. Rubber companies are constantly looking for new ways to produce synthetic rubbers, as well as researching whether or not the creation of new, higher-quality, better-performing rubbers is possible. The newest class of such products is thermoplastic rubber which are a combination of plastics and rubber. Another new entrant into the world of synthetic rubbers is reclaimed rubber, which is a recycled product that has been de-vulcanized! This class of products is less expensive but does lack sophistication such as good chemical or temperature resistance.

Recycled rubbers, which can be found in tires, are the fastest growing segment of the industry. Millions of tires are discarded into landfills every year; instead of allowing them to pile up and take up unnecessary and harmful space, they can be treated both mechanically and chemically in order to produce new rubber which can also be used in a variety of applications. The old tires are ground up into a crumb and then turned into sheets which can be used as flooring, or cut and customized into small rubber products such as pads and protective strips. It does not seem as though there will ever be a shortage of materials from which to make recycled rubber, as tires continue to be produced and subsequently discarded. What this means is that we have stumbled upon a great renewable resource that can provide us with new materials for years and years to come, thus benefitting the environment immensely. Rubber shops have popped up specifically in States that subsidize and promote the recycling of tires. Firms produce flooring, industrial parts, speed bumps, and fuel while helping reduce the burden of landfills.

Now you have the answer to the question “what is rubber made of?” And now you know that there is a wide network of firms across the world and a large number of rubber companies which are contributing to the growth and expansion of the industry. These companies play a large part in the production of commercial rubber that is incorporated into your everyday life, whether you are aware of it or not. With advances in technology and continued research, who knows in what ways rubber will become a part of your life, and what the potential benefits of rubber will be in the future!