Cologne – Specialty chemicals company LANXESS has looked into how the CO2 footprint can be further reduced during the processing of “green” rubber. Anyone wishing to develop “green” rubber articles can already turn to the Keltan Eco EPDM rubber from LANXESS as an outstanding alternative to conventional synthetic rubber from fossil raw materials. LANXESS experts have now examined which plasticizer oils and fillers can be combined with this bio-based rubber to reduce the carbon footprint of the resulting compounds still further. The extensive study, which examined amongst others the use of natural oils and carbon black from tire waste, will be presented to a wide audience of experts at the German Rubber Conference 2015 in Nuremberg.
The LANXESS researchers have come to very concrete conclusions. For example, they will be presenting on a seal for use in automobiles that is based on sulfur-vulcanized EPDM. The seal consists of 90 percent sustainable components and exhibits broadly the same technical properties as its conventional equivalents. “In many cases, EPDM products contain up to four times as much ingredients – such as fillers and oils – next to the rubber,” explains Martin van Duin, rubber expert at LANXESS High Performance Elastomers business unit. “Our Keltan Eco grades made from ethylene, which is produced using bio-based raw materials, are therefore one key building block in the development of ‘greener’ rubber articles – but only one of many. Since improving the sustainability of our products is one of our most important goals at LANXESS, we have now also taken an intensive look at the possibilities and technical conditions involved in ‘green’ compounds using Keltan Eco.”
Theoretically, there is a whole range of possible components made from sustainable raw materials available to the rubber compound developers that could replace, for example, extender oils from fossil sources in EPDM rubber products. The challenge is in the detail. If the natural oils are too polar, the mixture can cause problems during mixing or bleeding from the final product. If they contain too much unsaturation, they can affect the network density, because they compete with the rubber for the sulfur during vulcanization. Van Duin and his colleague Philip Hough, expert in application development, therefore examined a whole series of oils with varying levels of unsaturation – from linseed oil to olive oil. In a second phase of their study, they also included modified oils such as hydrogenated coconut oil, and squalane, a naturally occurring saturated C30 hydrocarbon. In terms of potential “green” fillers, candidates included micro-crystalline cellulose (from wood), silica ash (from rice husks) and pyrolysis carbon black (from waste tires). “Even this black is better than conventional furnace black obtained through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels in terms of its sustainability,” explains Hough, “because it avoids waste and increases the recycling rate. On top of that, the tire waste itself contains a certain proportion of natural rubber.”
Using standard procedures and equipment, all these components were processed at LANXESS into rubber samples that were then thoroughly examined in terms of their technical properties, including after artificial aging. “We made a conscious decision to prioritize practicality, so we could transfer experience to industrial rubber application technology as easily as possible and offer valid compounding recommendations,” says van Duin.
Some effects were expected, and have now been comprehensively documented. “We have shown what can already be achieved using these findings by creating a Keltan Eco seal that is made up of 90 percent sustainable raw materials and is totally comparable with conventional compounds,” says Hough, “even after aging at 125 °C.” This shows that EPDM’s key characteristic – its outstanding heat stability – is also present in “green” compounds.
LANXESS is a leading specialty chemicals company with sales of EUR 8.0 billion in 2014 and about 16,300 employees in 29 countries. The company is currently represented at 52 production sites worldwide. The core business of LANXESS is the development, manufacturing and marketing of plastics, rubber, intermediates and specialty chemicals. LANXESS is a member of the leading sustainability indices Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI World and DJSI Europe) and FTSE4Good.