Natural rubber: how it is produced and main uses

The main characteristics of natural rubber

Natural rubber is a widely present product in our everyday life. Yet, still today there are many doubts about it: how is it produced and what are its potential? In this regard, the first thing to know is that we have a material produced thanks to the latex of the rubber tree, whose scientific name is Hevea brasiliensis. As the name also implies, we are talking about a type of trees that originally grew only in certain areas of Brazil.

Although it is a plant that prefers the natural habitat of the central Amazon, nowadays various crops with the rubber tree can be found practically all over Southeast Asia. The latter is an area where the climate is particularly favorable for the growth of this plant and which currently covers almost all of the world’s needs.

Natural rubber accounts for approximately 40% of the total amount of rubber used and present in the world. However, synthetic rubber made in suitable industrial complexes is often preferred, since it has lower production costs and a more controllable constancy of characteristics. At the same time, synthetic rubber has properties that natural rubber does not have.

The manufacturing process

As for the rubber processing process, it is useful to know that the latex is collected from the tree thanks to an incision on the bark of the vegetable. The liquid comes out of the tree and begins to drip, thus being collected in special containers. Once the collection has been carried out, the buckets with the latex are taken to collection tanks. Thanks to the reaction due to exposure with acidic reagents, the white liquid coagulates, like milk with rennet.

Once coagulated, the natural rubber is pressed into sheets and transported to special factories where the process of compaction into bales is carried out. Only subsequently, at destination and depending on the needs, the material is specially processed to obtain belts, tires, gaskets, insulating materials and many other products.


Some curiosities about rubber

In large part, rubber is used to make tires for aircraft, trucks and cars. To produce just one small tire, latex from over four rubber trees is needed (unfortunately) and harvesting, as well as being manual, is long and linked to natural cycles. It is interesting to consider that natural rubber could be produced even in the absence of these trees and using some shrubs and plants but with extremely limited productivity. Some modern studies also by large multinationals foresee the cultivation of these species even at latitudes like ours, with promising results in terms of latex quality, but far from the quantities of sub-tropical regions.

The current plantations of Hevea are very extensive, but they are slowly changing and in some cases getting sick and by their nature they need a lot of attention and it is advisable to plant the trees not very close to each other. In fact, it seems that, if they are too close to a distance, they quickly become more vulnerable to diseases and especially to the attack of an aggressive fungus. The parasitic fungus damages the structure of natural rubber trees and compromises their proper development.

This is also one of the reasons why production in Brazil is struggling to restart as it should. Fortunately, in Asia this fungus is almost completely absent and very strictly controlled, which is why there are no major problems with the growth and use of rubber trees. Even some ornamental plants that we keep at home, such as the “Ficus Elastica” with large and rounded leaves, produce a latex very similar to that of Hevea and in some cases it is also used.

Natural rubber or artificial rubber?

Natural rubber is widely used in the production of food products. It is also used for many other applications, as we said before. However, many times it is preferred to use synthetic rubbers, which have many properties that the natural one cannot guarantee. Artificial materials are great for manufacturing most everyday products.

Many types of synthetic rubbers are used instead of natural rubber for the production of industrial items such as gaskets, sleeves, grommets that will have to resist oil, sea water, intense cold such as ozone or very high temperatures, up to at 250 ° C and above. Operating in this sector, we can say with certainty that in many of these cases the synthetic ones are much more suitable than the natural solution. They guarantee those properties that are needed to make work what they were designed and applied for. Do not hesitate to contact us for more information.