Roxanna Bauza Petrovic, is General Director of Programs at the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers Inc. (IISRP). She is responsible for the IISRP’s Statistical Programs including data collection, reconciliation, system design, and analysis and reporting. Petrovic develops new projects in conjunction with the Members and the Managing Director and holds the responsibility for the Statistical Committee activities and serves as the principal liaison for this Committee.

Synthetic Rubber (SR), produced from petroleum and other minerals, is used as a substitute for natural rubber in many cases. A large number of highly specialised rubber products are made from many synthetic rubber varieties. When improved material properties are required, synthetic rubber is considered.

In an interview with Pramod Thomas of Rubber Asia, Roxanna provides a list of the new highly specialized SR products currently available in the market. She anticipates a future balance between SR & NR. There is enough interplay between both rubbers in the tyre sector and substitution will continue if prices get too far apart, she says. Here is the detailed text of the interview:

What are the key developments in the field of rubber/tyre technology during the past decade? With a focus on SR?

In the last decade, the key developments in the rubber/tyre technology are high-end rubbers needed for high performance tyres/green tyres; as the EU Labelling came mandatory as of November 2012, and later more labelling regulations expanded around the world. Through this regulation, the European Union aimed to raise awareness among consumers and focus their attention on the issues of greater safety, but also on fuel consumption and noise emissions. Moreover, EU tyre labelling has been an accelerator of Solution Styrene Butadiene Rubber (SSBR) innovation and development for the tyre industry globally. The SSBR producers have taken functionalization technology to the next level to achieve low rolling resistance, great tyre safety and enhance processability.

On the other hand, tyre manufacturers started to favour neodymium polybutadiene rubber (Nd-PBR) over standard grades of polybutadiene rubber (PBR) such as nickel-PBR and lithium-PBR. Neodymium has higher linearity and molecular weight, contributing to lower rolling resistance and lower abrasion, so tyre labelling has also been the main driver of important production capacity investments on Nd-BR globally since 2012.

 

What are the new highly specialized SR products currently available in the market?

1. Highly/fully Hydrogenated Nitrile Rubbers – Polymers designed to meet the needs of automotive and oil and gas applications due to an excellent oil resistance, mechanical properties and high temperatures resistance.
2. NBR in powder form – Pre-crosslinked rubber which is a high-performance PVC modifier. Applications can be cables, boots, window gaskets, profiles, oil & fuel hoses
3. Improved EPDM grades – With different levels of crosslinking and crystallization, offering improved mixing ability that enhances their end-used applications. These products are used in automotive hoses, belts, automobile sealing systems and building profiles.
4. Oil-extended EPDM improved grades – Polymers designed to mix and cure faster in synthetic rubber compound and maintaining performance with high levers of fillers. Polymers designed for high-performance weatherstripping (automotive seals).
5. Polyisoprene rubber/Polyisoprene latex – Introduced as natural rubber replacement, since medical industry sought to reduce risks associated with NR allergies in Latex surgical gloves. These products are targeting medical applications as catheters, IV stoppers & medical bottles, condoms & surgical gloves; in addition, can be used on coating and specialized footwear.
6. Styrene Ethylene Butylene Styrene (SEBS) products for PVC replacement – Rubbers that provide enhance purity, flexibility, clarity, compatibility with PP, improved durability, resistance to impact, elasticity; they are well suited for medical bags tubes, and flexible films.
7. Styrene Butadiene Styrene (SBS) for highly modified asphalts – Polymers designed to improve durability and processability in paving applications, offering extended product life, higher resistance to fatigue, rutting & cracking.
8. SEBS foaming materials (TPE & fillers) – Elastomers designed for replacing conventional foaming elastomer such as EVA/POE, these products offer flexibility, colouring abilities, soft texture, abrasion resistance, high impact absorption, toughness and anti-slip properties. Also, these products are compatible with EPDM, EVA & SBR. These products are used in high-performance footwear and foaming modification applications as yoga pads and sports products.
9. Liquid BR/SBR & IR Rubbers – High molecular weight liquid rubbers, which are colourless and transparent, offering a reduction in processing time and improved processability. These high viscosity synthetic rubbers are based on isoprene, butadiene, butadiene & styrene to improve the production of high-performance tires.

What are the new uses and applications of SR?

The automotive industry is the major driver for the SR consumption, and this industry is experiencing a very important transformation towards self-driving, electric, connected and shared mobility. So, instead of talking about new applications, I would mention that the four mobility trends mentioned will demand new performance and design requirements to the automotive sector, meaning of more opportunities for advanced materials. Moreover, these materials should have one or more specific properties that will enable future functionality that OEM’s are pursuing. Therefore, the synthetic rubber industry should focus on high-technological tempo, to have the ability to develop these new technologies fast and get them to the market swiftly.

Are SR products set to surpass the NR market?

I anticipate future balance between SR & NR. First, we know there is enough interplay between both rubbers in the tire sector and substitution will continue if prices get too far apart.

But from the high-performance applications’ perspective, molecular design is a very important factor. The SR can offer control molecules and molecular designed possibilities; in contrast, NR has unknown components (Proteins, contaminants & so on).

What are the comparative advantages of SR and NR products?

The advantages of Synthetic Rubber are Controlled molecules, global scale production facilities and availability of long term price contracts. The drawbacks are higher CO2 emissions and volatility.

Natural Rubber is a sustainable product, supply is plenty and has low prices. But it has unknown components, traceability is inferior and highly dependent on season /climate changes.