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What Is Synthetic Rubber?

Benjamin Arie
Benjamin Arie

Synthetic rubber is created from petroleum and is classified as an artificial elastomer. This means that it is able to be deformed without sustaining damage, and can return to its original shape after being stretched. Man made rubber has many advantages over natural rubber, and is used in many applications due to its superior performance. The use of synthetic rubber is much more prominent than natural rubber in most industrialized nations.

Natural rubber, in contrast to the man made type, is not a product of petroleum but is grown on the Hevea brasiliensis, or rubber tree. Mature rubber trees produce latex, which can be harvested without harming the tree. One of the primary disadvantages of natural rubber is its limited supply.

Synthetic rubber is often used in car tires.
Synthetic rubber is often used in car tires.

The demand for rubber sources began to increase rapidly with the invention of automobiles and automobile tires. Many scientists searched for a synthetic alternative during the early 20th century, but it was not until World War Two that synthetic rubber replaced natural sources. The war in the Pacific during this time cut off the United States' supply of rubber from the East Indies. Production of man-made rubber during the 1940s expanded to over 100 times the pre-war levels.

Creating artificial rubber begins with petroleum. Two gases called butadiene and styrene are produced as byproducts during the petroleum refining process. Liquid latex, a basic form of synthetic rubber, is created when butadiene and styrene are properly combined. After liquid latex is allowed to dry, it can be formed into different shapes and used by manufacturing facilities in place of natural rubber.

Synthetic rubber is used in a wide variety of applications. In addition to its importance in car tires, artificial rubber is also commonly used to produce medical equipment, molded parts, and belts for machinery. Many industrial hoses and seals are also created using man-made rubber.

There are several different popular varieties of synthetic rubber. These are usually created by combining chemicals in different quantities during the rubber production process. Styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) is very common, and is able to withstand temperatures between -40 to 212 F (-40 to 100 C). This type of rubber is widely used in tire treads for aircraft and automobiles, and also for conveyor belts and other industrial products.

Isoprene rubber (IR) is able to handle higher temperatures than styrene butadiene rubber. IR has a maximum temperature tolerance of 266 F (130 C). This artificial rubber is often used in products that must resist high heat levels, such as vehicle heating hoses and performance car tires.

Discussion Comments


Is this why some greases eat away rubber? What kind of rubber is then used for cv axles or ball joints as they have to hold in grease without it dissolving it away?


@Kat919 - Synthetic rubber was one of the first kinds of plastic. It's just a type of plastic. The key defining quality is that it was developed specifically to replace rubber, whereas other kinds of plastic are doing jobs once done by glass, metal, etc.

The European colonizers did some pretty terrible things in Africa in the name of maintaing a rubber supply, so it's pretty good they found an alternative!


If it comes from petroleum instead of trees, wouldn't synthetic rubber be a polymer; that is, isn't is just plastic? Is there a different between plastic and synthetic rubber?

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    • Synthetic rubber is often used in car tires.
      By: Aron Hsiao
      Synthetic rubber is often used in car tires.