What is rubber
Rubber, latex and elastomers
The rubber raw material is obtained from rubber trees. Today, however, producers mainly use synthetic rubber.
Not all rubber is created equal. There are numerous products that the industry has developed specifically for the various areas of application. Chemists speak of elastomers or elastomer products.
In 2018, German companies processed around 678,000 tons of rubber. Of this, 232,000 tons were natural rubber, mainly from Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. The companies usually produce the synthetic rubber directly in Germany.
Although rubber is a commonly used term, it is somewhat imprecise. In the retail sector, this repeatedly leads to misunderstandings. Customers often assume that latex is a product made from natural rubber. That is not always the case: latex is just rubber in liquid form, says the trade association of the German rubber industry. And the rubber can be produced both naturally and synthetically.
With the right cut for a rich harvest
The rubber trees grow in the tropical regions. They are between 15 and 30 meters high and have a trunk diameter of up to one meter. The trees are between five and eight years old before the plantation workers can harvest the first latex.
To get it, they cut the bark at an angle, up to about half the circumference of the tree. This usually happens before daybreak, when the sap is flowing best. Approximately 20 to 30 grams of latex can be captured per day. A third of it is rubber, otherwise the juice mainly contains water.
After two days, a strip of bark is loosened below the cut in order to gain new latex. The workers continue in this way until they reach the base of the tree. Then switch to the other side. If a rubber tree is handled carefully, it will provide latex until it is 40 years old. However, with age, the production of the juice decreases.
Some people are allergic
Natural rubber does not have the same properties as synthetic rubber. Both have special areas of application and cannot be interchanged in products at will.
For example, some synthetic rubbers are better suited for handling oils, such as chloroprene rubber, which is also used in diving suits. Natural rubber, on the other hand, is used in balloons, baby teats and high-quality rubber boots.
However, some people are allergic to the natural products. The triggers are the protein components it contains. The industry has reacted to this and filters out the proteins in the manufacturing process.
The most important products for the German rubber industry are anyway in other areas, such as vehicle construction. Car tires and car parts such as seals, hoses and suspension systems top the list of rubber products. Rubber is also in demand in mechanical engineering, for example for conveyor belts or drive belts.
In 2018, the German rubber industry achieved sales of around 11.4 billion euros. The company's research departments are constantly working to improve rubber products.
A changed composition is intended to make the material more durable, so that car owners have to replace the seals or hoses in their vehicles less often.
Car tires are also being fine-tuned: on the one hand, they should adhere better to the road, but on the other hand, they should roll more quietly and offer less rolling resistance in order to reduce road noise and fuel consumption.
Recycling: tires burn for cement
Recycling tires and other rubber products is an important issue. Discarded tires are returned to the economic cycle in various ways. Some of it is shredded and processed into new products, such as rubber mats or the flooring of a sports field.
The cement industry also frequently uses old tires as fuel. On the one hand, the tires have roughly the same calorific value as hard coal. On the other hand, the iron from the reinforcement of the tires can be integrated into the cement.
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