Rubber, which can be produced from natural sources or synthetically, has several significant industrial applications. Every year, the world uses almost 30 million metric tons (m.t.) of rubber for tires, adhesives, clothing, and more. Natural rubber comes from latex, a milky white fluid produced chiefly by Hevea brasiliensis, the rubber tree. Synthetic rubber is typically manufactured from polymers derived from petroleum.
Despite its widespread use, rubber is inherently difficult to recycle and reuse. Rubber is typically hardened through a process called vulcanization, which treats the rubber with sulfur to crosslink its polymer chains, thereby increasing its elasticity, rigidity, and durability. To recycle rubber, these bonds must be broken, a process that usually involves high heat or toxic chemicals.
Thus, recycling rubber in an eco-friendly manner is a challenge. According to recent statistics, only 40% of rubber produced in the U.S. is recycled — the rest goes to landfill, where it can take 50–80 years to decompose completely.
At Flinders Univ. in Australia, researchers have developed a recyclable rubber that is also self-repairing. The rubber is a mixture of sulfur, canola oil, and dicyclopentadiene (DCPD), which are all waste products. By altering the ratios of these three components, the chemists can make hard, durable rubber or soft, flexible rubber. The end product is easily recyclable, in contrast to...
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