Natural Rubber

What is Natural Rubber?

Natural rubber is a highly elastic and stretchy material that is derived from the sap of rubber trees, which are primarily found in tropical regions. This material is known for its outstanding properties of flexibility, resilience, and durability, making it an essential material in many industries. The chemical structure of natural rubber consists of long chains of organic molecules, primarily isoprene, that are held together by weak bonds. These chains allow natural rubber to be stretched and deformed significantly without breaking and then return to its original shape.

The process of obtaining natural rubber from rubber trees involves tapping the tree's bark to collect the latex sap that oozes out. The collected sap is then processed to remove excess water and other impurities before it is transformed into a solid material through a process called coagulation. This material is then washed and dried, after which it can be processed further into various products, including tires, gloves, gaskets, and other industrial materials.

The natural rubber has been used by humans for thousands of years, with evidence of its use found in ancient civilizations such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. Today, it remains an essential material in many industries due to its unique combination of properties, as well as its renewable and biodegradable nature. Despite the increasing use of synthetic rubber, natural rubber remains a valuable resource, especially for applications where its unique properties cannot be replicated by synthetic alternatives.

Natural Rubber Production in the World

Thailand is the top country producing Natural rubber in the world. As of 2022, Thailand produced 4,825,907 tonnes of Natural rubber, accounting for 31.91% of the total production. Indonesia is the world's second-largest Natural rubber producer, with 3,135,287 tonnes, which represents 20.73% of the total production. In terms of Natural rubber yield, Bolivia (Plurinational State of) is the most productive country on the planet with 31,821. Vietnam, Côte d'Ivoire, and India are the top three leading countries with '1,339,533', '1,286,000', '843,000', and '843,000' tonnes respectively. The Dominican Republic has the lowest production of Natural rubber in the world with only 57 tonnes in 2022. The world's total production of natural rubber was estimated at 15,125,393 tonnes in 2022.

Source: FAOSTAT

Top 10 countries by Natural Rubber production 2022

Top Countries by Production of Natural Rubber in 2022

Rank Country production(Tonnes) acreage(Hectare) Yield
1
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Thailand
4,825,9073,508,54613,755
2
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Indonesia
3,135,2873,826,4518,194
3
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Vietnam
1,339,533727,90918,402
4
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Côte d'Ivoire
1,286,000796,20416,152
5
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India
843,000376,18422,409
6
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China
843,000809,87210,409
7
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Philippines
415,750239,64817,348
8
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Cambodia
394,700330,90811,928
9
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Malaysia
377,0471,136,1403,319
10
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Myanmar
299,600359,4978,334
11
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Lao People's Democratic Republic
288,400186,00015,505
12
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Brazil
250,178182,00613,746
13
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Nigeria
149,397361,3964,134
14
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Ghana
117,000134,8688,675
15
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Guatemala
111,30083,28513,364
16
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Liberia
107,100134,3327,973
17
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Mexico
101,88833,06930,811
18
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Sri Lanka
70,867138,5115,116
19
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Cameroon
50,50065,6277,695
20
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Gabon
25,70016,45515,619
21
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Bangladesh
23,000229,3771,003
22
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Ecuador
19,49612,88115,135
23
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Colombia
18,00042,6014,225
24
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Guinea
15,34712,02012,768
25
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Papua New Guinea
5,5009,3815,863
26
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Democratic Republic of the Congo
5,40023,5732,291
27
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Bolivia (Plurinational State of)
2,70084831,821
28
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Congo
2,2832,5329,019
29
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Central African Republic
1,18999211,986
30
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Brunei Darussalam
2674,222633
31
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Dominican Republic
574512,837

cultivation of Natural Rubber

The cultivation of natural rubber trees involves several key steps to ensure that the trees grow healthy and produce high-quality latex sap. Here are some key points to keep in mind when cultivating rubber trees:

  1. Site selection: Rubber trees require a warm and humid climate to grow well. The ideal temperature range is between 20-35°C, and rainfall should be evenly distributed throughout the year. The soil should be well-drained, deep, and rich in organic matter.
  2. Planting: Rubber trees can be propagated by seeds or cuttings, but cuttings are the preferred method as they produce trees that are more uniform in size and have latex yield. The trees should be planted in rows with a spacing of 6-7 meters between trees and 3-4 meters between rows.
  3. Management: Once the trees are established, they require regular maintenance, including pruning, weeding, and pest control. The bark of the trees must be tapped regularly to collect the latex sap. This should be done in a way that does not damage the tree or reduce its yield.
  4. Harvesting: Rubber trees typically start producing latex sap after 5-6 years of growth, and peak production occurs between 10-20 years. The latex sap is collected by making incisions in the bark of the tree and allowing the sap to flow into a collection cup.
  5. Processing: The collected latex sap is processed to remove impurities and water, and then coagulated to form solid rubber sheets. The rubber sheets are then washed, dried, and pressed into bales for transport.

Cultivating natural rubber trees can be a long-term investment as the trees can produce latex sap for up to 30 years or more. Proper management practices, including timely tapping and pest control, are crucial to ensure maximum yield and profitability.

Chemical Composition in Natural Rubber?

The chemical composition of natural rubber primarily consists of the polymer polyisoprene, which is made up of repeating units of the molecule isoprene. However, natural rubber also contains small amounts of other compounds, including proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and minerals.

Polyisoprene makes up about 95% of the dry weight of natural rubber. The polymer consists of chains of isoprene units, with each unit containing five carbon atoms and eight hydrogen atoms. The isoprene units are linked together through covalent bonds to form long chains, which are held together by weak intermolecular forces.

The remaining 5% of natural rubber is made up of non-rubber components. Proteins, which are found in small quantities, can cause allergic reactions in some people. Lipids, which include fatty acids and glycerides, are important for the stability of the rubber latex and can affect the properties of the final rubber product. Carbohydrates, including sucrose and glucose, are found in low concentrations and can affect the microbial growth in rubber latex. Minerals, such as calcium and potassium, are also present in small amounts and can affect the properties of the final rubber product.

The exact composition of natural rubber can vary depending on factors such as the species of the rubber tree, climate, and harvesting methods. However, the primary component of natural rubber is always polyisoprene, which gives the material its unique properties.

Uses of Natural Rubber

Natural Rubber is a versatile material with many applications due to its unique combination of properties, including elasticity, flexibility, durability, and resistance to wear and tear.

Here are some common uses of natural rubber:

  1. Tires: The largest application of natural rubber is in the production of tires for vehicles. The elasticity and durability of natural rubber make it ideal for use in tire treads and sidewalls.
  2. Industrial products: Natural rubber is also used in a wide range of industrial products, including hoses, belts, gaskets, and seals. The material's flexibility and resistance to wear and tear make it an ideal choice for these applications.
  3. Footwear: Natural rubber is commonly used in the production of footwear, including sneakers, sandals, and boots. The material's elasticity and water resistance make it ideal for use in soles and uppers.
  4. Medical products: Natural rubber is used in the production of many medical products, including gloves, catheters, and tubing. The material's low protein content and high tensile strength make it ideal for use in these applications.
  5. Consumer products: Natural rubber is used in a variety of consumer products, including balloons, toys, and erasers. The material's elasticity and flexibility make it ideal for use in these applications.
  6. Adhesives: Natural rubber is used as a base material in many types of adhesives, including contact cement and pressure-sensitive adhesives. The material's ability to form strong bonds and its flexibility makes it ideal for use in these applications.

Overall, the unique properties of natural rubber make it a valuable material for a wide range of applications in various industries.

Types of Natural Rubber

There are two main types of natural rubber: technically specified rubber (TSR) and ribbed smoked sheets (RSS).

  1. Technically specified rubber (TSR): TSR is produced by coagulating natural rubber latex with acid or other coagulating agents. The resulting rubber is washed, pressed, and dried to remove excess water and impurities. TSR is used primarily for the production of tires, as it has a high level of purity and consistent properties.
  2. Ribbed smoked sheets (RSS): RSS is produced by coagulating natural rubber latex with acid or other coagulating agents, then flattening and smoking the resulting sheets. The smoking process helps to preserve the rubber and improve its properties. RSS is used primarily for industrial applications, such as in the production of hoses and belts.

There are also several different grades of natural rubber, which are differentiated based on their properties and intended use. Some common grades of natural rubber include:

  1. Standard Malaysian Rubber (SMR): SMR is a high-quality natural rubber produced in Malaysia, which accounts for over 60% of the world's natural rubber production. SMR is typically used in the production of tires and other high-end rubber products.
  2. Latex concentrate: Latex concentrate is a form of natural rubber that has been concentrated by removing excess water. It is used primarily for the production of medical products such as gloves and catheters.
  3. Crepe rubber: Crepe rubber is a form of natural rubber that has been processed to create a textured surface. It is used primarily for the production of footwear and mats.
  4. Skim rubber: Skim rubber is a lower-quality form of natural rubber produced from leftover material after TSR or RSS production. It is used primarily for industrial applications.

Overall, the type and grade of natural rubber used depend on the specific application and required properties of the final product.