With a growing concern for the environment, producers and consumers alike are becoming more and more interested in products which are “green,” meaning that they have little to no harmful impact on the environment. Oftentimes, green products are even beneficial to the environment. People are looking to both produce green products, as well as to buy them so that they may do their part to contribute to a better tomorrow. But before this movement to go green, there were already many products out there that were and still are derived from natural resources. One such product is natural rubber, also known as natural gum rubber—but exactly what is natural rubber? Quite simply, it is a product which is derived from a latex substance which comes from trees which are located on plantations in tropical areas, such as South America, and many countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia. It is an interesting chemical compound and it has many desirable properties like as a non-marking rubber! Thus it is used for many products, including natural rubber sheets, which themselves can be used for an even greater number of applications. Here are the facts you need to know, which will provide a look into rubber in the past, present, and future.
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- Natural rubber was used by ancient Mesoamerican civilizations to create a ball for a game which was similar to modern-day soccer, football, and basketball. The material was boiled and then used for game-play.
What is Natural Rubber?
Where Rubber Is Obtained:
- It was discovered that rubber could “rub” away markings made by writing utensils, and thus, we were given the eraser. Yet another way that rubber is the answer to all your problems…or the repair to all your errors.
- This rubber eraser feature is only possible if the product is a non-marking rubber. If rubber did mark, then it would not be an eraser!
- Perhaps the first commercial use of rubber was when it was used to make tires for the exploding automobile industry in the early twentieth century.
- Later when the product arrived in Europe it was used as crude natural rubber gaskets and as padding in early industrial machinery.
Rubber’s Chemical Make-up and Properties:
- Natural gum rubber comes from the tree Hevea brasiliensis, also known as the Para rubber tree, which is found in tropical regions on both hemispheres of the world.
- The material is derived from the latex material that is secreted from the tree after it is “wounded.” The tree is cut open, and as a part of its natural healing process, it will secrete the latex at which point it can be collected.
- The dominant rubber-producing countries in the world are Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Para rubber tree seeds were brought to these countries while they were still colonies of the British Empire during the 19th century, thanks to an explorer named Henry Wickham who brought the seeds from South America.
- Rubber is a polymer of the compound isoprene (2-methyl-1, 3-butadiene). It has a double bond, one of which is flexible, which contributes to rubber’s properties. Written chemically, it appears as such: CH2=C(CH3)CH=CH2 .
- It has a molecular weight ranging between 100,000 and 1,000,000.
- Stretching rubber is an exothermic reaction; allowing rubber to return to its original shape is an endothermic reaction.
- Rubber hardens below 0C and loses strength above 80C. These undesirable properties can be remedied by the process of vulcanization, where rubber is treated with sulfur to create sulfuric cross-linked bonds between the individual monomers.
- The creation of natural rubber sheets that are used commercially for flooring, matting, and other specialized products.
- Gloves for sanitation, and in its fibrous form, it produces elastic which makes tight-fitting, stretchable clothing.
- Natural rubber gaskets are used to seals and protect moving equipment from one-another.
- The fact that natural rubber is a non-marking rubber does help promote its use in sensitive applications like when used for window cleaning or on ice rink cleaning equipment.
- The majority of rubber goes towards the automobile industry, but not just for tires! Rubber can also be used for seals such as the ones which are found around windows, and is used as padding for the metal gears that work together to operate your vehicle.
- Used for hose and belting products.
- In its latex form, it can be used for adhesives and coatings.
The potential uses of natural gum rubber are virtually limitless, so do not limit yourself to this extremely short list! Do a little research on your own so that you can further improve your knowledge on the subject. With increasing research and improving technology, there is no telling the number of ways in which natural rubber may be used for industrial, commercial, and everyday applications. Even within one natural rubber sheet, there are a plethora of uses for some things you may have never even thought of! So, what is natural rubber? It’s a material that provides protection, that can stretch, that can absorb impact, has a long history, has a number of different uses, and it will not damage the environment. But most importantly, it can be useful to you!