Published May 2017
Polyisoprene elastomers (IR) are synthetic, predominantly stereoregular polymers that closely resemble natural rubber in molecular structure as well as in properties.
Polyisoprene elastomers are currently being used in a variety of 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 finds uses 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. Mineral-filled polyisoprene finds applications in footwear, sponges, and sporting goods. Other important uses include medical applications and adhesives and sealants. Of all the applications, medical applications have seen the fastest growth.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of polyisoprene elastomers:
Approximately 72% of world IR consumption in 2016 was for use in tires and tire products. The global polyisoprene elastomers utilization rate was on the low side in 2016, at about 59%. This was due primarily to the very low utilization rate in China (14%).
The largest consumer of polyisoprene elastomer in 2016 was Central and Eastern Europe, representing close to 40% of total world consumption. China has increased its polyisoprene consumption from negligible amounts in 1998 to 14% of total global consumption in 2016. The Central and Eastern European region (mainly Russia) will continue to be the largest consumer of polyisoprene elastomers in the forecast period during 2016–21.
In North America, the United States accounted for 80% of total consumption in 2016. In the United States, the majority of IR consumption is for domestic tire production, which represented 63% of total IR consumption in 2016. Polyisoprene is consumed in place of, or in blends with, natural rubber or other elastomers in tires. In developed countries, polyiosoprene loadings are generally higher in tires as a result of quality control and narrower performance requirements in highperformance tires. In the medical and health care arena, polyisoprene consumption has been growing; continued concerns regarding allergic reactions to proteins present in natural rubber have prompted increased usage of polyisoprene rubber and latex in some applications.
China began production of polyisoprene rubber in 2010. During 2013–16, the market for isoprene was supplanted by the much-lower-priced natural rubber (NR) and large domestic stockpiles of NR, which had a negative effect on Chinese supply and demand for IR. Moreover, polyisoprene technology in China is neither mature nor advanced. The application for light-colored polyisoprene elastomers in hose and wire applications largely relies on imports. The import volume has also been significantly influenced by weak demand in recent years.
In the last several years, lower natural rubber prices have been placing downward pressure on polyisoprene elastomers. However, an uptick in market prices occurred in early 2017.
Tires and tire products continued to dominate consumption of polyisoprene elastomers in 2016. Mechanical rubber goods assumed the second position at 12% of global consumption, followed by medical applications (8%), footwear (4%), and other items (5%). Medical applications will continue to have the fastest consumption growth during 2016–21.
Future world polyisoprene elastomer consumption is expected to grow at 2.5–3.0% per year to 2021. Future growth in polyisoprene elastomer consumption is highly dependent on overall production of tires, loadings of IR in tires, and the price and supply/demand relationship of natural rubber.