Kobe, Japan – Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd is claiming a major breakthrough from its research into the molecular structure of natural rubber from Para rubber trees.
As reported by SRI at the International Rubber Conference (IRC) 2016 Kitakyushu, Japan, its analysis using high-performance NMR equipment and proprietary techniques has yielded new insights into terminal group structures of natural rubber.
The findings open the door to “significant improvements in the performance and processability of natural rubber, opening up new possibilities for enhanced tire performance in terms of fuel efficiency and wear resistance,” said a 26 Oct SRI statement.
The research, at Osaka University, is part of SRI’s Vision 2020 strategy, which includes a focus on the development of more environmentally-friendly products in terms of fuel-efficiency, raw materials and resource savings.
Until now, the influence of terminal group on molecular branching of natural rubber and, in turn, the properties of natural rubber have been little understood, according to the tire maker.
Using an “advanced process” of chemically treating natural rubber at its place of origin, SRI said it was able to detect “faint NMR signals” from the terminal groups. Further NMR analysis combined with matching of the signal patterns to known chemical structures revealed the actual structures of these terminal groups.
The NMR measurements were performed at the Institute for Protein Research, Osaka University, under a Japanese government programme to promote the sharing of advanced research facilities.
In its report, SRI said: “We have discovered that the initiating terminals of natural rubber molecules are dimethyl allyl groups while the terminals are a mix of four different types of structures. Further, we have found that two of these structures directly contribute to branching formations as well as gel formation.”
The Japanese tire and rubber company went on to claim that it now had the ability “to begin unravelling the mysteries surrounding the branching formations of natural rubber … [creating] new possibilities for improving the performance and processability of natural rubber.”
“In addition, by further elucidating the mechanisms behind the superior performance traits that are innate to natural rubber based on the results of our structural analysis, we will be able to apply this knowledge to the development of entirely new materials.”