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Friday, 10 February 2017

High-end rubber to roll on new age roads

In an interview, Frank Lueckgen, Global Marketing Director - Tires, Tire & Specialty Rubbers Business Unit, ARLANXEO with Chemical Today magazine delves into the trends and technological revolutions, which will take the rubber industry to the next gear. He also talks about the new age synthetic rubber, which is set to change the equation of tyre manufacturing.
By Debarati Das
Global trends in the tyre industry.
Global trends in the tyre industry today lean towards more sophisticated technological developments, higher requirements on safety, environment and functionality.
However, these requirements differ from region to region in the tyre market; 
Europe, for example, has a strong focus on rolling resistance driven by the tyre labelling introduced at the end of 2012. Furthermore, OEM's are asking for more local production from the tyre manufacturers, which also has an impact on the suppliers to the tyre industry.
Global trends in the speciality rubber industry.
Tyre manufacturers have to meet stringent requirements for fuel economy, grip and mileage. These requirements can only be met by using materials designed to improve the dynamic properties of the tyre. Functionalised rubbers are an ideal and proven way to meet these requirements in combination with fillers and silanes. Therefore, tyre manufacturers are constantly looking for new types of functional polymers to help create compounds for the best fit to their application developments. 
Technology advancements in the rubber industry.
Since the introduction of tyre labelling eg in the EU, tyre manufacturers have consequently pushed forward the topics of performance improvement in order to receive a good labelling. Even in countries with no such tyre regulations in place, we are seeing an increasing preference towards more fuel-efficient tyres.
The labelling requirements, which refer to fuel efficiency, wet grip and noise reduction, can only be met by using materials such as high-performance rubber, which are designed to improve the dynamic properties of the tyre. 
Our goal, therefore, is to, as we have always been doing, continue to apply our R&D capabilities to develop and improve functionalised rubber products across our portfolio range. Our focus is on meeting our customers’ needs and to contribute to improving essential properties in performance tyres.  
Crude oil/fuel markets impacting the rubber raw material chain of the tyre industry.
Firstly, higher crude oil prices lead to higher fuel prices at the gas station. Therefore any improvement in rolling resistance of tyres helps in reducing the fuel costs. This improvement can only be achieved by using high-performance rubber types.
Secondly, higher crude oil prices also lead to higher costs for synthetic rubber as crude oil is a key raw material, and therefore a major cost factor.
Potential of Regular Butyl rubber, Halogenated Butyl rubber (HIIR) business in emerging markets.
The butyl market is growing in line with the tyre market. As more tyres are produced, more halo butyl is used for the tyre’s innerliner. This is the same for regular butyl, which is used to make curing bladders. 
We expect emerging markets to grow faster than the more saturated markets. However, this would not be the case for countries like Brazil and Russia, which are affected by lower car production and therefore reduced tyre demand.
Key market drivers for the growth of the rubber market.
The market drivers for growth are the right product portfolio that meets the latest technical requirements, state of the art production sites, a competent technical sales team and a good regional set up to serve local customers.
The overall rubber market will grow exponentially with a strong global automotive market. This is simply attributed to the many different types of rubbers used in the car production such as in timing belts, window profiles, hoses etc.
Challenges in the rubber industry.
The current market environment with over capacities and price pressure is a major challenge for our business. But due to the strong set-up of ARLANXEO, we are well prepared to face these challenges – and to position ourselves as a strong player in the synthetic rubber industry.  
In the chemical industry, we see an ongoing consolidation at the moment. Companies re-orientate themselves due to the changing environment in the global chemical industry. Driving factors here are, for example, the new role of Chinese companies looking for further growth and know-how opportunities, including looking outside of China. Also in the US, we do see lively activities as the changing raw material situation has led to competitive advantages especially in comparison to European companies. And the M&A activities in the chemical industry will certainly continue.
ARLANXEO’s tyre and speciality rubber business.
TSR (Tire & Specialty Rubbers), a business unit of the ARLANXEO group, is one of the world’s leading suppliers of high-quality rubbers for the tyre industry, as well as other demanding rubber-related industries. With a truly global production footprint, we have the scale needed to tackle supply-driven challenges throughout the entire rubber supply chain. 
With comprehensive rubber know-how, research and development and application technologies under one roof, we offer a broad portfolio of versatile elastomers, such as butyl and butadiene rubbers, that are predominantly used in the production of tyres. 
Our butyl rubber products, such as halogenated butyl rubbers (Halobutyl), are used in the inner liners of tyres to provide excellent retention of the desired inflated pressure. The solution styrene butadiene rubbers (S-SBR), Buna VSL, and neodymium catalysed butadiene rubbers (Nd-BR), Buna CB and Buna Nd EZ, are used in treads, sidewalls and other components of tyres. Also included in the portfolio are the general purpose emulsion styrene butadiene rubbers (E-SBR), Buna SE.
Partnership with biotech firms to produce rubber intermediates from sugar and bio based Butyl rubber products.
We have always considered and explored the use of renewable raw materials. In order to evaluate the technical and commercial feasibility, we work very closely with our customers.
A few years ago, ARLANXEO became the first synthetic rubber company to develop a commercially available bio-based EPDM (Keltan Eco) product, from our plant in Brazil. Keltan Eco uses C2, which is produced based on sugar cane and therefore partially based on renewable resources.
Since then, we have worked hard to make further improvements, for example, we have worked on a seal that, 90 percent of which comprises sustainable components and exhibits broadly the same technical properties as its conventional equivalents.
Ways in which Keltan® 9565Q can replace natural rubber in dynamic applications.
Keltan 9565Q, an ethylene-propylene-diene rubber (EPDM) can really compete with natural rubber (NR), which is susceptible to ageing. This new grade is characterised by its exceptionally high molecular weight, which gives the synthetic rubber its extremely high NR-type strength and resilience. 
Nonetheless, as a saturated polymer, this grade also still features the heat, weathering and ozone resistance typical of EPDM rubber. Keltan 9565Q is thus not only superior to natural rubber in terms of heat ageing but can also offer this benefit in highly dynamic applications. In addition, this new ultra-high-molecular Keltan grade opens up new potential for more economical EPDM processing compared with NR.
Focus regarding R&D and innovation related to rubber activities.
We use our know-how and experience to develop sustainable products and technologies that are friendly to the climate and the environment in the long term.
Our R&D approach for the synthetic rubber types going into tyres was always focused on the quality and performance improvement of tyres.
For instance, we are currently working on functionalizing our SSBR rubber grades with low glass transition temperatures in order to improve the polymer to filler network for both carbons black and silica-loaded systems. This will lead to a further improvement in dynamic properties and therefore a reduction in rolling resistance coefficient while gaining in treadwear resistance. 
Besides this, we are also currently working on EPDM product innovations. In fact, some of them have already been an introduced to the market like Keltan 9565Q (high-molecular EPDM grade for dynamic applications). The recent transition towards our unique advanced catalysis system (Keltan Ace Technology) has also enabled us to develop new products in a more sustainable manner – leading to reduced energy requirements, zero catalyst waste, and chlorine-free products. 
Future growth, strategy plans for the rubber business.
The ongoing consolidation including mergers and JVs is the logical consequence in a market with over capacities and price pressure. It is in the interest of every company here to try to bundle its strengths and to reposition its business. This should also influence demand and supply in the future.
© Chemical Today Magazine
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