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PBR – Poly Butadiene Rubber

Polybutadiene is a term used to denote homopolymer of butadiene C4H6. Polybutadiene is a synthetic rubber that is a polymer formed from the polymerization process of the monomer 1,3-butadiene. Depending upon the disposition of the double bonds present in the polymer chain, PBR can be classified into five configuration cis- 1,4;trans-1,4; vinyl-l,2-isotactic; vinyl-l,2-syndiotactic ; and vinyl-1,2 atactic. Depending on the choice of catalyst system, PBR can be prepared ranging from almost 100% cis to 100 % trans or 100% vinyl. Out of these configurations, medium and high cis varieties are of commercial importance.

The Russian chemist Sergei Vasilyevich Lebedev was the first to polymerize butadiene in 1910. In 1926 he invented a process for manufacturing butadiene from ethanol, and in 1928, developed a method for producing polybutadiene using sodium as a catalyst. The government of the Soviet Union strived to use polybutadiene as an alternative to natural rubber and built the first pilot plant in 1930, using ethanol produced from potatoes. The experiment was a success and in 1936 the Soviet Union built the world's first polybutadiene plant in which the butadiene was obtained from petroleum. By 1940, the Soviet Union was by far the largest producer of polybutadiene with 50,000 tons per year. Following Lebedev's work, other industrialized countries such as Germany and the United States developed polybutadiene and SBR as an alternative to natural rubber. In 1980, researchers from Zeon discovered that high-vinyl polybutadiene (over 70%), despite having a high liquid-glass transition, could be advantageously used in combination with high cis in tires. This material is produced with an alkyllithium catalyst. In addition to the Japanese company Zeon, the American company Firestone produces high-vinyl polybutadiene as well. JSR Corporation markets a type of polybutadiene with 90% vinyl, giving it the properties of an elastomeric thermoplastic: elastic at room temperature but a fluid at high temperatures, which makes it possible to process it using injection molding.

Leading producers of PBR around the world include Lanxess, Korea Kumho, Michelin, Ncgromcx, Nippon Zeon, Petkim, Turkey, Petrochim, Rcpson Ouimica, Taiwan Synthetic, Ube and Romania, and CIS. PBR capacity increased rapidly between 2010 and 2014. These capacity additions were much more rapid than demand growth. Capacity growth over the next five years will be very limited, with the majority of announced projects in China. By 2020, Northeast Asia will account for nearly 60% of global PBR capacity. The majority of the new capacity will either be PBR/sSBR swing plants or use neodymium (Nd) catalysts that result in marked improvements in vulcanizate performance.

Global capacity of PBR was around 4.9 MMT in 2015. In early 1970s, IPCL set up PBR manufacturing facilities with the know-how from Polymer Corporation of Canada. The commercial production in this plant with the installed capacity of 20,000 TPA started in 1978. Now, Reliance is the sole manufacturer of PBR having a capacity of 124 KT.

PBR consumption, similar to capacity, is dominated by Northeast Asia, particularly China. The region’s share of the global total increased from just over 30% in the year 2000 to over 50% in 2015. By 2022, Northeast Asia's share of global PBR demand is actually expected to ease somewhat as the outlook for demand growth in China has slowed. Other smaller regions such as Southeast Asia, Central Europe, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent will see PBR demand growth at faster-than-average rates. West Europe and North America are the next largest consuming regions, each with 12–15% of global demand in 2015. This is not surprising given the use of PBR in high-performance tires. Demand for these tires is greatest in North America and West Europe, which enables tire producers to maintain a presence for the production of high-performance tires in these two developed regions. However, even the production of higher-performance tires is increasingly migrating to the Asia/Pacific region, which then supplies these types of tires to North America and West Europe.

Polybutadiene is largely used in various parts of automobile tyres; the manufacture of tyres consumes about 70% of the world production of polybutadiene, with a majority of it being high cis. The polybutadiene is used primarily in the sidewall of truck tyres, this helps to improve fatigue to failure life due to the continuous flexing during run. As a result, tyres will not blow out in extreme service conditions. It is also used in the tread portion of giant truck tyres to improve the abrasion, i.e. less wearing, and to run the tyre comparatively cool, since the internal heat comes out quickly. Both parts are formed by extrusion. Its main competitors in this application are styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR) and natural rubber.

Polybutadiene has the advantage compared to SBR in its lower liquid-glass transition temperature, which gives it a high resistance to wear and a low rolling resistance. This gives the tyres a long life and low fuel consumption. However, the lower transition temperature also lowers the friction on wet surfaces, which is why polybutadiene almost always is used in combination with any of the other two elastomers. About 1 kg of polybutadiene is used per tire in automobiles, and 3.3 kg in utility vehicles.

About 25% of the produced polybutadiene is used to improve the mechanical properties of plastics, in particular of high-impact polystyrene (HIPS) and to a lesser extent acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). The addition of between 4% and 12% polybutadiene to polystyrene transforms it from a fragile and delicate material to a ductile and resistant one. Most golf balls are made of an elastic core of polybutadiene surrounded by a layer of a harder material.

Polybutadiene is preferred to other elastomers due to its high resilience. Polybutadiene rubber can also be used in the cover of hoses, mainly pneumatic and water hoses. This rubber can also be used in railway pads, bridge blocks, etc. It is also used as a fuel in combination with an oxidizer in various Solid Rocket Boosters such as Japan's H-IIB launch vehicle.

PBR Processes:

Polybutadiene rubber is prepared by either emulsion or solution polymerization. In general these processes are based on organo-lithium compounds or co-ordination catalysts. Polymerization is carried out using pure dry butadiene and a solvent. When the desired conversion is achieved, the catalyst is deactivated and polybutadiene is recovered from the unreacted butadiene and solvent, washed to remove the catalyst residue, and dried.

Solution Polymerization of PBR:

The processes to produce SBR & PBR by solution are very similar. A catalyst is added to a thoroughly dried mixture of monomer and hydrocarbon solvent. After reacting and polymerizing in one or more reactors, a shortstop is added to limit the conversion of the polymer.

Capacity (kt) Actual Actual Actual Actual Actual Projected
2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
RIL 74 74 85 104 124 124
Total 74 74 85 104 124 124
Source: Industry

PBR: India Demand Supply
Actual Actual Actual Actual Actual Projected
2011-12 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17
Capacity 74 74 85 104 124 124
Production 74 74 85 104 112 116
Dom Sales 74 74 84 101 110 113
Imports 81 94 86 70 62 70
Exports 0 1 3 2 6 6
Consumption 155 168 170 171 172 183
Source: Industry
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