Natural gum rubber is a popular non marking rubber material thanks to its soft, supple nature and excellent flexibility. It is a natural product that is made from the sap of rubber trees found in South America and South Asia. Natural gum rubber is also an eco-friendly elastomer thanks to its tree-derived raw materials. The origins of this ‘green’ elastomer and its modern-day version has a storied past and was one of the most important discoveries of the modern era.
Natural Gum Rubber
What is Gum Rubber Made From?
Natural rubber material is produced by harvesting the latex from trees through a process called tapping. Tapping is the process of creating incisions in the trunk of the Hevea brasiliensis tree, also known as the “rubber tree,” to allow the latex material to trickle out into collections containers. It is then processed to form the material we know as natural gum rubber. More than 200 plants across the world are known to produce latex, but the majority of natural rubber products are made using latex from the Hevea brasiliensis. This makes natural gum rubber the perfect material for environmentally-conscious consumers.
History of Gum Rubber
The earliest recorded use of natural gum rubber was in the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations of Central and South America. “As far back at 1600 B.C., Mesoamerican people in Mexico and Central America were using liquid rubber for medicines, in rituals, and to paint. It was not until the conquest of America that the use of rubber reached the western World” (frontiersin.org). When Europeans first encountered it, this flexible rubber was just a scientific curiosity. That changed when industrialization began. People began to gain more awareness as to just how useful natural rubber material was for many different kinds of applications. As demand for natural rubber products grew beyond the forests of South America, the supply was expanded to plantations in South Asia, specifically to countries like India, Indonesia, and Malaysia. This was driven largely by the demand from military and automotive applications. The astronomic rise in demand for natural rubber products, especially during wartime, also helped drive the production of new synthetic rubbers. Today, these South Asia regions supply the bulk of the world’s natural gum rubber.
1. What Are the Properties of Natural Rubber?
Natural rubber has excellent chemical and physical properties. The first thing that people tend to notice about natural gum rubber is that it is a very flexible rubber. Generally, natural rubber material is more supple than most other rubber types, especially its industrial sheet rubber version called “gum rubber”. It can be manipulated sufficiently enough to allow it to be used in a wide variety of different forms and uses. While natural gum rubber is extremely elastic, it also retains enough durability to handle repeated stress. Being a flexible rubber is probably the key characteristic of natural gum rubber, but its tensile strength is also a hugely important attribute. The exact tensile strength will depend on an individual product, but natural rubber material generally has an excellent level of tensile strength with a certain degree of chemical resistance.
1(a). Chemical Properties
Natural gum rubber has unique chemical properties as well. Natural rubber material generally resists most organic salts, ammonia, acids, and alkali solutions. Despite this, it is always a good idea to double check how the material would fare against specific temperatures and types of chemicals. One thing to keep in mind is that natural rubber products do not have the higher levels of chemical and temperature resistance that their synthetic rubber counterparts have. However, “gum rubber is resistant to most acids, salts, ammonia and alkalis chemicals” (engineersedge.com). Natural gum rubber is a product which has been derived from nature and, in terms of industrial uses, natural gum rubber more suited for light to medium grade applications that do not involve overly abrasive temperatures and chemical conditions.
1(b). Physical Properties
Aside from the considerable elasticity of this flexible rubber, it also possesses other great physical properties. Natural gum rubber has a low compression set, great resilience and abrasion resistance, high tensile strength and tear resistance, good surface friction and good shock absorption. One of the most common reasons natural rubber is such a valued material is its high coefficient of friction. A high coefficient of friction allows rubber to retain its ability to grip even when coming into contact with moisture. More importantly, it is a non marking rubber. This means that the material will leave less residue on whatever surface it may be applied to making natural gum rubber one of the most versatile natural materials available.
What is Gum Rubber Used For?
This level of elasticity makes natural gum rubber ideal for use as wiper blades, machine skirting, and even as drum practice pads, among many other applications. Some of the synthetic rubbers that were developed in the 20th century were made specifically with the intention of trying to mimic this level of durable elasticity. This flexible rubber is often the “preferred choice for industrial applications that require a flexible elastomer with great compressions set, flex-ability and chemical capabilities characteristics” (engineersedge.com). Additionally, due to its unique level of chemical resistance, natural gum rubber has been employed in industrial settings where chemicals and alkalis are in use or being stored. Manufacturers tend to use this elastomer in the form of seals and skirting for machines or for containers holding industrial chemicals.
Is Natural Rubber Biodegradable?
The cool thing about natural rubber material is, since it is a plant derived product, it is a biodegradable form of rubber. According to an article posted on the American Society for Microbiology, “Microbial degradation of natural rubber has been investigated for 100 years. It became obvious that bacteria, as well as fungi, are capable of degrading rubber and the rubber biodegradation is a slow process” (aem.asm.org). Due to the biodegradable nature of this natural rubber material, it is often mixed in with other ingredients to prevent this biodegrading process and create a more durable rubber product. On the other hand, natural rubber products are the ideal for those who are environmentally conscious and would like to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable waste in the landfills.
Given all of these excellent physical and chemical properties, it should be fairly obvious why Rubber-Cal provides natural gum rubber sheets to industry. No matter the type of application, be it commercial or industrial, natural rubber products are more than likely to suit the demand. Consumers need a reliable non marking rubber that is cost-effective and easily available while exhibiting superior levels of elasticity and durability. Consider getting a sheet made from natural gum rubber for your next project!