Despite a variety of synthetic alternatives, natural rubber continues to be in high demand in the US. As market conditions shift, demand for the resource will only increase.
In 2016, natural rubber accounted for 20% of US demand for rubber. Demand in the segment sunk to its lowest point since 2009 as prices plummeted and US tire production fell from 2011 peaks. However, given the material’s advantages over its synthetic competition, growth in US tire manufacturing through 2021 will benefit sales of natural rubber more than the other segments. While most automotive car tires feature a natural rubber proportion of 10% to 40%, larger tires and those utilized in demanding applications require a higher proportion of natural rubber.
MVP (Most Valuable Properties)
The properties of natural rubber provide it such advantages over synthetic substitutes that it is not really replaceable in some applications. Such properties include tear resistance and vibration dampening, making the material irreplaceable in applications such as large construction vehicle tires and airplane tires.
A variety of synthetic rubber types are produced, and each one exhibits unique properties that makes it favored in specific applications. However, none of these synthetic types are able to match the properties that make natural rubber crucial in tires. Even synthetic polyisoprene cannot match the distinct characteristics of natural rubber, as it lacks the other plant-derived compounds found in the latter.
An Ongoing Search for Natural Alternatives
The Hevea brasiliensis tree from which the latex used to manufacture natural rubber is harvested can grow in only tropical locations, which means rubber product manufacturers in the US have to import natural rubber from countries such as Indonesia or Thailand. In an effort to overcome this constraint, some producers are researching ways to harvest natural rubber from other sources outside of tropical climates. A couple sources being investigated for economic viability are guayule, a plant native to the desert in the southwestern US and northern Mexico, and the Taraxacum kok-saghyz plant, commonly referred to as the Russian dandelion.
For more insights into the US rubber market, see Rubber: United States, a report recently released by the Freedonia Focus Reports division of The Freedonia Group. This report forecasts US rubber demand in nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) terms and synthetic rubber shipments in nominal terms in US dollars at the manufacturers’ level to 2021. Total demand in nominal terms is segmented by type in terms of:
- styrene-butadiene rubber
- natural rubber
- polybutadiene rubber
- ethylene-propylene diene monomer
- polychloroprene; isobutylene isoprene, or butyl, rubber; polyisoprene rubber; and acrylonitrile-butadiene rubber
- other synthetic rubbers such as acrylic and fluoroelastomers.
Related Freedonia Focus Reports include Crude Petroleum: United States, Natural Gas: United States, Refined Petroleum Products: United States, and Thermoplastic Resins: United States.
About the Author
Luke Hickman is a Market Research Analyst for Freedonia Focus Reports. He holds a degree in economics, and his experience as an analyst covers multiple industries.