Developing a Stronger Natural Rubber Industry with the Help of Nanotechnology
Although Nanotechnology is a lesser celebrated subject in Sri Lanka, one of the country’s main export crops are tipped to benefit from the latest developments in Nanotechnology.
The latest research has discovered a new chemical process to combine carbon nanotubes with natural rubber compounds to enhance its flexibility and strength. What’s more, the process has been found to enhance the mechanical and electrical properties without sacrificing the elasticity of the material.
Incidentally unknown to many of us global and local rubber industry has been using the concept of combining carbon black nanoparticles to reinforce the strength and flexibility of rubber. Mainly used in the production of automobile industry related rubber products including tires, tubes, suspension top cups, cab mounts and suspensions, the effect that the primary hybrid fillers like carbon black have on the properties of natural rubber including strength, viscosity, vulcanization rate, cross-link density, hardness, modulus, thermal and electrical conductivity has been long known.
Meanwhile, the scientists have recently experimented with the combination of primary fillers like carbon black with secondary fillers like carbon nanotubes and conductive carbon black to increase the strength of natural rubber and have found the new combination to carry a greater advantage due to its;
- Lighter weight
- Improved electrical, mechanical and thermal properties
- Ease of processing
Moreover, Experiments with Nano-clay in natural rubber have already proven that the use of Nano-clay leads to an increase in stiffness and improvement of the permeability properties.
While the use of nanoparticles and nanocomposites are the latest trend in polymer technology due to their surprisingly enhance material properties, they are yet to gain momentum in the industrial world, mainly due to high expenses required in the transformation process and the inability to achieve uniform dispersion of Nanomaterial within the rubber matrix.
However, local researchers at Rubber Research Institute Sri Lanka led by Mr. U N Rathnayaka has developed a series of tailor-made solutions to enhance the quality of natural rubber sole crepe based products made in Sri Lanka.
Although Sri Lanka is a major supplier of natural rubber latex crepe and sole crepe to the world market, most of the rubber produced in Sri Lanka is exported in its raw form without a value addition.
The Raw Rubber Process Development and Chemical Engineering Department of Rubber Research Institute of Sri Lanka (RRISL) is on a mission to change this trend through the development of a natural rubber nanocomposite which includes natural rubber and layered silicates. Moreover, RRISL is also investigating the quality enhancement of raw natural rubber through Nanotechnology to enhance the quality of raw natural rubber and natural rubber sole crepe exported from Sri Lanka.