China seeks to get itself out of a sticky spot with rubber extraction innovation

China imports more than 80 per cent of the natural rubber it needs each year, according to official figures.

It is an ideal rubber material to replace natural rubber and petroleum synthetic rubber

Zhu Mingqiang

The research team from the Northwest A&F University also identified the conditions required for compatibility of eucommia gum with natural and nitrile rubber – another commonly used rubber – the report said.

The development is expected to be a “blessing” for the high-end rubber market in China, thanks to the long list of advantages in using eucommia gum, including its high wear resistance, excellent fatigue resistance and slip resistance, it said.

“It is an ideal rubber material to replace natural rubber and petroleum synthetic rubber in the future to manufacture high-performance green tyres,” Professor Zhu Mingqiang and his team wrote in a separate research paper published last month in Industrial Crops and Products – an international journal.

China’s reliance on imports for natural rubber, a polymer mainly sourced from the Hevea brasiliensis tree, simply known as the rubber tree, has climbed over the past decades along with its rapid growth in industrial output.

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Since 2014, China has imported over 80 per cent of the natural rubber, according to data from Chinese customs and the National Bureau of Statistics.

China needs over 6 million tonnes per year, accounting for more than 40 per cent of global production, said Wang Lijuan, secretary general of China Natural Rubber Association at a forum in October in Shanghai.

Last year, China produced 856,000 tonnes domestically, mostly from the southern island province of Hainan and parts of the southwestern Yunnan province, according to Wang.

Southeast Asian countries are the main sources of natural rubber imports for China, with Thailand taking the lead, she added.

Eucommia ulmoides is widely grown in China, but has traditionally been used in medicines.

It has not previously been commercially utilised for rubber production due to poor extraction methods which often are costly, inefficient and polluting, according to Zhu.

China, though, could produce 1.2 million tonnes of rubber from eucommia ulmoides per year if it meets the required planting area of 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) by 2030, which was targeted by the National Forestry and Grassland Administration in 2016, added Zhu.

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