Resources and Replacements

Identify data, gather and process information to identify and discuss the issues associated with the increased need for a natural resource that is not a fossil fuel and evaluate the progress currently being made to solve the problems identified (including ’Discuss the issues associated with shrinking world resources with regard to one identified natural product that is not a fossil fuel, identifying the replacement materials used and/or current research in place to find a replacement for the named material’)

Due to the strong link between the above two dotpoints, they have been joined together for the purpose of this study guide so that a single, more concise response is possible. Once again, if this material appears as an exam question, make sure that proper attention is given to the verb used, as although the content will be provided below, it is up to you to ensure that it is used in a manner relevant to the question.

Rubber is a natural resource that has grown increasingly popular over time as its unique elastic structure has proved a ready solution to many problems, resulting in a myriad of uses.

Originally native to South America, Rubber occurs naturally as latex in the sap of plants and trees such as the Para rubber tree. Introduced into South Asia by the English, rubber was grown predominantly in large plantations in these countries, and today the production of natural rubber in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand alone accounts for well over half of the world’s natural rubber production.

With the arrival of automobiles, the demand for rubber soon escalated rapidly as rubber was seen as the ideal material for the production of tyres. An added increase in tyres for military vehicles during World War II, on top of ever-increasing demand related to the production of gloves, adhesives, conveyer belts, pencil rubbers, rubber bands amongst many other products soon made the global population realise that current production rates of rubber were simply insufficient for future needs. Thus although natural rubber sources were renewable, their availability was in fact shrinking relative to global demand.

It is under this backdrop that American and German scientists developed synthetic rubber. More chemically resistant and physically durable than natural rubber, synthetic rubber was found to be a much more desirable alternative as it provided a superior material at a cheaper price. Common synthetic rubbers found today include butadiene rubber, chloroprene rubber, ethylene-propylene-diene rubber, and styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR), with SBR being the most common. Collectively, 80% of global rubber production now consists of synthetic substitutes.

Yet although lower manufacturing costs for a product that is both chemically and physically superior to its natural counterpart is clearly appealing, it must be noted that synthetic rubbers are derived from fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource. If an alternative source of energy can be harnessed, such as the use of ethanol converted from biomass, then there is no doubt that the potential for the use of rubbers will be unlimited. Indeed, as is there is no doubt that the advantages of producing synthetic rubber clearly outweighs any disadvantages, and as the manufacturing process is continually refined, so too will the synthetic rubber products improve.

Remember- Due to a myriad of uses because of the chemical and physical properties of rubber, the demand for rubber soon outpaced its supply. Today, over 80% of rubber is synthetic, as the material is chemically and physically superior while cheaper to produce. However, synthetic rubber is derived from fossil fuels, and as such cannot be sustained indefinitely. One solution would be the arrival of fuel such as ethanol derived from biomass.