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Published: September 2011
Polyisoprene elastomers are synthetic, predominantly stereoregular polymers that closely resemble natural rubber in molecular structure as well as in properties. Polyisoprene elastomers are currently used in a variety of end-use applications requiring good resilience, low water swell, high gum tensile strength, good tack and high hot tensile strength. The largest end use for polyisoprene by far is in tires. Black-loaded polyisoprene is used in tires, motor mounts, pipe gaskets, shock absorber bushings, and many other molded and mechanical goods. Gum polyisoprene compounds are used in rubber bands, cut thread, baby bottle nipples and extruded hoses, and other such items. Polyisoprene that is mineral-filled finds applications in footwear, sponges and sporting goods. Other uses include medical applications and adhesives and sealants.
Tires and tire products accounted for about 75% of world polyisoprene consumption in 2010, and over 90% of the consumption in Central and Eastern Europe.
Polyisoprene market penetration for isoprenic elastomer consumption peaked as high as 15% in the early 1970s but fell below 5% in 1995 in the United States, Western Europe and Japan, mainly because of the price disadvantage. Recent higher prices for natural rubber have led to a slight uptick in polyisoprene consumption relative to natural rubber, to 6–7% since 2007 in the major consuming regions. Globally, polyisoprene accounts for less than 5% of the total consumption of isoprenic elastomers.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of polyisoprene elastomers:
Russia is and will continue to be the world market leader in terms of capacity, production and exports. China (with the highest average annual consumption growth rate) has increased its consumption of polyisoprene from negligible levels in 1998. Although not currently a producer, during the forecast period of 2010–2015, China could add several polyisoprene units to satisfy domestic demand. The Central and Eastern European region (mostly Russia) will continue to be the largest consumer of polyisoprene during the forecast period.
World polyisoprene elastomer consumption is expected to grow at nearly 4% per year to 2015, driven mainly by China, Central and Eastern Europe, and other developing countries. Future growth will be highly dependent on overall production of tires and tire products, as well as on the price and supply of natural rubber.