Current situation

The rubber world as we know it

"Demand is indeed increasing, and the IRSG projections estimate the global consumption of natural rubber to reach 13.0 million tons." - iGEM SDU 2013

Figure 1 - The Global Rubber Consumption

Today almost all of the natural rubber produced in the world comes from the rubber tree known as Hevea brasiliensis. The tree is native to the Amazonas, but has been introduced to environments in the tropics, especially in plantations located in the south-eastern regions of Asia. The overall area is unknown, but given that clones of Hevea brasiliensis have been shown to produce between 2-3 t/ha/yr - a production maximum, and then assuming that all plantations produce 2 t/ha/yr and that the total global production is 11.3 mio t/yr, the area of plantations is very roughly 57.000 km2, or approximately the size of Croatia. This is of course only an estimate, the total area could be much larger.

Natural rubber is produced from latex extracts, which are obtained by draining the trees. This milky extract is then processed into the different types of rubber, depending on its intended use. The demand is indeed increasing, and the projections estimate the global consumption of natural rubber to reach 13.0 million
tons and total global consumption 27.7 million tons, by the year 2018 (Fig. 1-2). Source: International Smallholder Rubber Conference Phnom Penh, Cambodia 24 June 2009 Panel 4 : Prospects - IRSG

Figure 2 - Global Natural Rubber Production

Synthetic rubber is produced in various ways and gives rise to a number of different synthetic rubber variants. It is produced mainly from fossil fuels like petroleum, oil, natural gas, and coal. These rubbers have enhanced properties towards heat resistance, but are inferior to natural rubbers in mechanical performance and low-temperature performances. There exists synthetic rubbers that come close to the performances of natural rubber, but prices are up to 500 times those of natural rubbers. Source: Threadingham, D., et al Synthetic rubber. In Ullmann's Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Bohnet, M., et al. (eds.), Wiley-VCH, Weinheim, 2006, Vol. A23 pp. 53-59, 93-97. (Link)

Hevea brasiliensis is a fast growing tree that belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae. Though smaller when grown in plantations, the wild tree can grow up to 36 meters tall. The lesser height in plantations is due to the draining of latex. The tree is mature for latex production when it reaches the age of 7-8 years and has a period of employment lasting approximately a quarter century. The percolation of latex is done by attaching a bowl to the tree and making an incision into the cortex of the tree, thus letting the latex slowly drain into the bowl. Source: The Great Danish Encyclopedia (Link) World wide there exists many high-yielding clones of Hevea brasiliensis, ranging from 900-1600 kg/ha/yr from exotic strains to 2000-3500 kg/ha/yr from Nigerian clones. It is only under perfect conditions that such high yields are obtained, and in most of Asia, the production is far lower. Source: K.O. Omokhafe & J.E. Alika: Clonal stability of latex yield in eleven clones of Hevea brasiliensis Muell. Arg. Gen Mol Biol 2003, 26:313-317. (Link)