Given the criticality of this material for the tyre and rubber industry, natural rubber is an incredibly important raw material for the European tyre and rubber industry and is a key enabler for several industries – especially automotive.
The tyre industry alone absorbs about 76% of all the natural rubber produced globally. Today, there is no substitute for natural rubber from hevea trees that could be used in all its current applications.
European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials
In 2008, ETRMA committed to work on three areas related to natural rubber (NR) under the framework of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials:
- To ensure fair and sustainable access to natural rubber,
- To diversify natural rubber supply in geographical terms – to reduce dependency from South East Asia
- To diversify natural rubber supply in sourcing terms – expanding research into alternative sources, such as the taraxacum and guayule.
- Natural Rubber is recognised as a Critical Raw Material by the EU, acquiring a priority status in EU policies – from trade to research;
- More than 20% of natural rubber used in the EU is now sourced from Africa;
- Research projects on dandelion and guayule in Europe are now ready to be scaled to production volumes to supply users of rubber in both the tyre and the non-tyre rubber industries;
- Initiatives on natural rubber sustainability have been launched: ETRMA is a member of the Tire Industry Project’s Global Platform for Sustainable Natural Rubber (GPSNR), the most important is under the auspices of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
Despite this demonstrable progress, the situation regarding the sustainable sourcing of natural rubber remains challenging.
ETRMA, together with EU and international institutions, will continue this path of diversification. Matching this natural rubber agenda with the environmental agenda of the EU will continue to be a priority. This includes a focus on low carbon strategies, as on the carbon sequestration potential of rubber trees, or on the possibilities regarding the circular economy around natural rubber.
A Brief History of Natural Rubber
Central and South American civilizations, such as the Incas, Mayas, Olmecs, Aztecs, were the first users of rubber in the construction industry, having found its incredible propriety of waterproofing and used it for their clothes and shoes. They were also the first to use it for “leisure and sport equipment”.
In England, Joseph Priestley, best known for his discovery of oxygen, noted that pencil marks could be “rubbed out” by the substance. From this early use, rubber derived its name. This application, together with the waterproofing of some textiles, was one of the first applications found for rubber in Europe. The French term for rubber comes instead from the Indian “ca-o-tchu”, “wood which cries”.
The discovering of the process of vulcanisation by Charles Goodyear in 1839 was essential to allow the use of rubber for raincoats, overshoes, and many other products, including tyres.
The first rubber paving to reduce traffic road noise was made in 1870 in London in front of the St Pancras hotel to not disturb the travellers.
The first synthesis of rubber was carried out in 1909 in Germany by F. Hoffmann. The scientific research significantly developed during the First World War because of the consequent difficulties of sourcing natural rubber.
The first elastomer was put on the US market in 1931 by Dupont de Nemours under the brand, Neoprene. The development of synthetic rubber increased during the Second World War.