Natural and synthetic rubbers are components to many applications, including clothing, military equipment, vehicles, toys and more. Rubber is in high demand around the globe, but because of drawbacks in obtaining and producing natural rubber, synthetic rubber makes up around 75 percent of all rubber used worldwide.
Natural rubber is harvested from rubber trees, which, because they can only grow in tropical climates, are primarily farmed in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, and parts of Africa and South America near the equator. Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia make up 72 percent of the world’s total rubber output, and have plans to sell the substance at $1350 and higher and reduce output in 2009 in order to combat falling export numbers. Vietnam, for example, shipped only 89,000 tons of natural rubber in the first quarter of 2009, compared to 130,000 tons over the same period in 2008. The monetary difference was $300 million last year to $120 million in this year’s period.
Synthetic rubber comprises roughly three fourths of all rubber consumption worldwide. It is produced by processing or refining crude oil, and then treating the rubber to ensure it is water resistant, crack and abrasion proof and durable. This process extends molecules into long polymer bonds and twists them, giving rubber its stretching qualities.
Although synthetic rubbers were invented in Germany, the process was rediscovered and advanced by the United States during and after World War II, and the United States continues to be the world’s biggest producer of synthetic rubber. 2004 estimates placed the United States as the supplier of 19.7 percent of the world’s synthetic rubber, followed by Japan at fourteen percent, Russia at 8.8 percent and Germany at 7.9 percent. The United States is also the world’s largest consumer of synthetic rubber and synthetic rubber products, with imports hovering just below 2 million metric tons.