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General Profile

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There are two basic types of rubber used in the rubber industry: natural and synthetic. A number of different synthetic rubber polymers are used to make a wide variety of rubber products (see table 1). Natural rubber is mostly produced in Southeast Asia, whereas synthetic rubber is mostly produced in the industrialized countries—the United States, Japan, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Brazil is the only developing country with a significant synthetic rubber industry.

Table 1. Some important rubber polymers

Type of rubber/
Elastomer

Production
(1000s of tonnes in 1993)

Properties

Common uses

Natural rubber

Thailand
Indonesia
Malaysia
India

1,501
1,353
923
426

General purpose; not oil-resistant, swollen by solvents; subject to weathering by oxygen, ozone,
UV light

Tyres, shock mounts, seals, couplings, bridge and building bearings, footwear, hoses, conveyor belts, moulded products, linings, rolls, gloves, condoms, medical devices, adhesives, carpet backing, thread, foam

Polyisoprene (IR)

US
Western Europe
Japan

47
15
52

General purpose; synthetic natural rubber, similar properties

See natural rubber above.

Styrene-butadiene (SBR)

US
Western Europe
Japan

920
1,117
620

General purpose; Second World War natural rubber substitute; poor oil/solvent resistance

Tyres (75%), conveyor belts, sponge, moulded goods, footwear, hoses, roll coverings, adhesives, waterproofing, latex carpet backing, foam products

Polybutadiene (BR)

US
Western Europe
Japan
Eastern Europe

465
297
215
62 (1996)

Poor oil/solvent resistance; subject to weathering; high resilience, abrasion resistance and low
temperature flexibility

Tyres, shoes, conveyor belts, transmission belts, toy superballs

Butyl (IIR)

US
Western Europe
Eastern Europe
Japan

130
168
90
83

Low gas permeability; resistant to heat, acid, polar liquids; not resistant to oil, solvents; moderate weathering

Inner tubes, tire curing bladders, caulking and sealants, cable insulation, vibration isolators, pond liners and roofing membranes,
high-temperature conveyor belts and hoses

Ethylene-propylene/
Ethylene-
Propylene-
Diene

US
Western Europe
Japan

261
201
124

Low-temperature flexibility; resistant to weathering and heat but not oil, solvents; excellent electrical properties

Wire and cable jackets; extruded weather stripping and seals; moulded products; isolation mounts; liner sheeting for grain storage, roofing, ponds, ditches, landfill

Polychloroprene (CR)
(neoprene)

US
Western Europe
Japan

105
102
74

Resistant to oil, flame, heat and weather

Wire and cable jackets, hoses, belts, conveyor belts, footwear, wet suits, coated fabrics and inflatable products, extrusions, adhesives,
bridge and rail mounts, sheeting, sponge gaskets, latex foam products

Nitrile (NBR)

US
Western Europe
Japan
Eastern Europe

64
108
70
30

Resistant to oil, solvents, vegetable oil; swollen by polar solvents such as ketones

Sealants, fuel-resistant hose linings and gaskets, roll coverings, conveyor belts, shoe soles, gloves, adhesives, oil-drilling equipment

Silicone (MQ)

US
Western Europe
Japan

95
107
59 (1990)

Stable at high/low temperatures; resistant to oil, solvents, weathering; physiologically and chemically inert

Wire and cable insulation, seals, adhesives, gaskets, specialty moulded and extruded goods, gas masks and respirators, food and medical tubing, surgical implants

Polysulphide (OT)

US
Western Europe
Japan

20
0
3

Resistant to oil, solvents, low temperature, weathering; low gas permeability

Roller covering, hose liner, gaskets, moulded goods, sealants, gas meter diaphragms, glass sealants, solid rocket propellant binder

Reclaimed rubber

Shorter polymer chains; easier processing; less mixing time and power consumption; lower tensile strength and lower cost

Tyres, inner tubes, floor mats, mechanical goods, adhesives, rubberized asphalt

Source: Production figures abstracted from Stanford Research Institute data.

Tyres and tyre products account for approximately 60% of synthetic rubber use and 75% of natural rubber consumption (Greek 1991), employing about half a million workers worldwide. Important non-tyre uses of rubber include automotive belts and hoses, gloves, condoms and rubber footwear.

In recent years, there has been a globalization of the rubber industry. This labour-intensive industry has grown in developing countries. Table 2 shows worldwide natural and synthetic rubber consumption for 1993.

Table 2. Worldwide rubber consumption for 1993

Region

Synthetic rubber
(1000 tonnes)

Natural rubber
(1000 tonnes)

North America

2,749

999

Western Europe

2,137

930

Asia and Oceania

1,849

2,043

Latin America

575

260

Central Europe

215

65

Commonwealth of Independent States

1,665

100

Middle East and Africa

124

162

China and Asia*

453

750

Total

9,767

5,309

*Includes China, North Korea and Viet Nam.

Source: International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers 1994.

 

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