What Is Rubber?

Rubber - we depend on it numerous times every day. Where does rubber come from and why is it so versatile a product.

Have you travelled in a car today? Then your life has been on the line. And what was it that prevented you from a calamitous encounter with the road surface. You guessed it - rubber! In the form of tyres, rubber must bear tremendous loads in the form of friction and shock. If it can't handle this stress, then you and I are in some serious trouble. So, what do you know about this material that you are putting your hands in every time you travel on the road? Where does it come from? And why is it the best option for our vehicles.

Every year the world produces about 4 million long tons of natural rubber and 7 million long tons of man-made rubber. About 70 % of this rubber goes to the automobile industry. But rubber has many more uses than that. The soles and heels of our shoes are made from rubber. The backing of your carpet is made of rubber. Raincoats and gumboots are made of rubber. Add to this rubber bands, rubber balls, rubber erasers and rubber adhesive and you can start to see just how much we depend on rubber. In all, some 50,000 products are made from rubber.

Natural rubber originates with a number of tropical and sub-tropical trees of the Amazon, South East Asia and Africa which produces a milk-like fluid called latex. These trees contain rubber in the form of latex tubes. The molecules of the rubber within these tiny tubes consist of 5 carbon and 8 hydrogen atoms. A large number of such molecules linked together form long, chain-like molecules called polymers. It is this linking formation that gives rubber it's elasticity.

Hundreds of thousands of workers spend long days extracting the rubber from their trees. From there the valuable cargo is transported an agent, where it is weighed, classified and paid for. From there they are shipped out to industrial centers.

During the two world wars, demand for rubber for automotive use sky-rocketed. Unable to meet this demand through natural sources, scientists began the search for a synthetic alternative. Today, rubber is made from such things as petroleum and coal. Some of these man-made rubbers are actually better for specific useages than the natural variety. Neoprene, for example, is highly resistant to oil, gasoline, sunlight and ozone.

Every year rubber wear leaves about 80,000 tons of rubber on United States roads. But, surprisingly, very little trace of this rubber fall-out can be found. Why is this? It appears that a large number of micro-organisms that live on the roadside find the product quite tasty and do a good job of cleaning off the surface of the highway.

Why is rubber so good for our car tires? It is long wearing, heat resistant, elastic water-resistant, air tight and water resistant. So, a tire is not worn away quickly by constant contact with the road. Neither will it burn away from the constant friction. And, as you move along the shock absorbent quality of the rubber in your tires keeps you cushioned from the bumps in the road.

Yes, our life would hardly be the same if we didn't have rubber as our trusty servant.

© High Speed Ventures 2011