In a contest of Natural Rubber vs. Synthetic Rubber, which would you say wins out? It is essentially a contest between man and nature, with natural rubber properties being pitted against the properties of synthetic rubber. Perhaps it could be billed as trees vs. petroleum products, small plantations vs. “Big Oil.” (I could go on and on, but this will not turn out to be an Ali vs. Frazier epic) These properties will determine which kind of rubber is best-suited for any sort of application, or perhaps whether or not a combination of the two kinds of rubbers is necessary. Such an occurrence happens with automobile tires, which are constructed out of a mixture of natural gum rubber and synthetic rubber. On the other hand, the design of aircraft tires necessitates that they be made completely out of natural rubber. Clearly then, there are things which distinguish the two products, as no matter how great science and technology is today, it cannot perfectly replicate natural rubber. Many small items are made from rubber as well, and they can be cut from either natural rubber sheets or sheets that are produced without NR, or with synthetic rubber, because it is created in a controlled environment with controlled materials, can be tailored to fit a particular task. That is not the case with natural rubber; what you see is what you get, and it is much more difficult to produce. The following will compare the two kinds of rubber against each other, so that you may determine for yourself which is more suited for your needs.
Natural Gum Rubber
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- Harvested from trees that are grown on plantations. This makes it a natural product and ecologically friendly, benefitting the environment in many ways. The latex is obtained from the trees and then processed into natural rubber sheets.
Natural Rubber VS. Synthetic Rubber
- High tensile strength, meaning its ability to be stretched and then return to form is very high.
- Resistant to wear from chipping, cutting, and tearing.
- Only moderate resistance to damage from heat, light, and the O-Zone. At other times, it can be very susceptible to these things.
- Can be known to degrade rapidly, especially under extreme conditions.
- There is no variation in natural rubber. For the most part, it is all harvested and processed the same way, which will ultimately produce the same product universally.
- Natural rubber has a quality known as “tack,” meaning that it adheres well to itself and to other materials.
Synthetic and Natural Rubber Properties
- Produced using petroleum-based materials. This means that it is not a natural product and its production can have some detrimental effects to the environment, including the depletion of the Earth’s natural resources. The trade-off is that by the by it is a longer-lasting material, thus decreasing its necessity to be reproduced. Despite this, the demand for synthetic rubber is very high, which keeps production rates high as well.
- Higher resistance to abrasion.
- Superior resistance to heat and the effects of aging.
- Flame resistant is possible!
- Resistant to grease and oil, possible!
- Flexible at low temperatures.
- Because it is produced artificially, it is easier to produce. It need not be produced in a certain region or at a certain time of year, and does not rely on weather. Though this does not mean it is cheaper.
- Performs well in extreme temperatures and in extreme environments.
- Resistant to electricity is another possibility.
- Chemical resistance: it cannot be readily changed when it comes into contact with other materials.
- There is variation between synthetic rubbers. Different kinds of synthetic rubbers are produced using different materials and are used for more-specific applications.
- Non-reactive: both are chemically resistant to many fluids including water and weak acids.
- Excellent as an adhesive or a protective coating.
- Poor conductors of heat and are therefore excellent insulators.
- When approaching freezing temperatures, will become very brittle.
- Both can undergo vulcanization, meaning that chemical bonds are strengthened by sulfur.
Despite their similarities, it is clear that comparing natural rubber vs. synthetic rubber is not necessarily apples to apples. Each has its own uses based upon its specific properties. Some may prefer the natural rubber properties over those of synthetic rubbers; it has been agreed upon that overall, natural gum rubber outperforms synthetic rubber in a majority of applications. But, natural rubber cannot be particularized for specific functions in the ways that synthetic rubber can be, meaning that each product has its own benefits over the other. Since there are many possibilities across the spectrum on both variations, it is best to compare two materials that have been produced. Since specifications are available, you can compare apples to apples (and not oranges!) So, if it were a contest, then clearly they would both be winners! Whether you wish to use a natural rubber sheet or one that was produced synthetically, you can be sure that you are getting a product that will fulfill all of your project’s needs.