Shouldn't we we start with a raw material that is carbon neutral?

Let's break it down ...

You might recall in one of our past chronicles we said that neoprene (synthetic rubber) is made from oil or limestone and releases large amounts of carbon into our atmosphere. And that this contributes to the production of greenhouse gases, which ultimately contributes to climate change.

Q: Just how much synthetic rubber is on the market?

A: 30 million metric tons of natural and synthetic rubber are produced annually. 60% of this total is synthetic rubber - about 18 million metric tons! The majority of synthetic rubber is butadiene used to make tires and yes, neoprene.

Whether we are making wetsuits or tires, we should replace synthetic rubber with natural rubber. Afterall, natural rubber is carbon neutral and synthetic rubber made from oil releases tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

Carbon footprint data exists on using oil to make rubber or plastics. The study below is, in our opinion, the most comprehensive to date and we will break it down for you.

Science Magazine Publication

In 2018, a group of 24 scientists from 16 different academic and commercial organizations, 4 different countries, and from 7 U.S. states (including Michigan and Texas) co-authored the most comprehensive assessment of climate emissions from crude oil production from 9,000 oil fields across 90 countries. They published their work in one of the world's top peer review journals, Science (or Science Magazine), of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). You can read the 101 page supplement for yourself by scanning the QR. 

One of the major conclusions was that on average, oil production emitted 10.3 grams of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e) for every 1 megajoule of crude oil produced.

Note: A megajoule (MJ) is a unit to measure energy and It can be converted to kilograms (kg) of oil. 1 MJ of oil =  0.0238 kg of oil, so 10.3 g / 0.0238 kg = 432.77 kg of CO2e from the production of 1 kg oil.

Stated another way, 432.77 kg of CO2e is emitted into the atmosphere for every 1 kg of oil produced. This does not include all the intensive energy required to convert oil to naptha and then into synthetic rubber.  

Published 31 August 2018, Science 361, 851 (2018) DOI: 10.1126/science.aar6859

How is this study relevant to synthetic rubber production?

The Rubber Manufacturers Association states that it takes ~ 6.75 kg of oil to make 1 kg of synthetic rubber, specifically butadiene.

We know from the Science article that 432.77 kg of CO2e is emitted for every 1 kg of oil produced. So for synthetic rubber, multiply 6.75 kg of oil by 432.77 kg CO2e, and that gives you 2,921 kg of CO2e emitted into the atmosphere for every 1 kg of synthetic rubber. 

In contrast, remember that rubber trees (plantations) actually capture and use CO2 from the atmosphere. So for every 1 kg of natural rubber latex harvested from a well managed plantation (like FSC-certified plantations), there is 25 kg of CO2 that is used and therefore removed from the atmosphere. So the natural rubber we use is essentially carbon neutral. Carbon neutral means no net emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, that means no CO2 trapped in the atmosphere, and that also means no global warming attributed to certified natural rubber production. 

Scoreboard for production of 1 kg synthetic Vs. 1 kg of natural rubber.

Synthetic Rubber ~3,0000 kg CO2e emitted vs. Natural Rubber 0 kg CO2e emitted

Mother Nature makes the best polymers folks! YULEX FSC-certified natural rubber used to make our materials and textiles uses 3000x less CO2e than the oil used for synthetic rubber. 

Thank you for hanging in there. I know the data can get dense - for us too.

What's the lesson here? Doing nothing is not an option. Of course there is still work to do and Yulex still needs to innovate and find solutions for reduction of CO2e in manufacturing etc., but ignoring problems don't make them go away. So let's be on this journey together. 

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