Just as much as the invention of a car tyre changed ground transportation forever, the invention of synthetic rubber helped to improve the chemical composition of car tyres.

Synthetic rubber rolls

The origins of synthetic rubber

Synthetic rubber was invented in the early 20th century by Fritz Hofmann, a German chemist who worked at Elberfelder Farbenfabriken Friedr Bayer & Co at that time. Over the years this company evolved and became LANXESS AG, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of speciality chemicals. 

Hofmann’s original intention was to find and produce a substance which could provide an effective and cheaper alternative to natural rubber. The types of rubber previosusly used in factories lacked flexibility and were difficult to modify. Moreover, the rising prices of rubber tree extracts became more and more problematic in the manufacturing processes.

The rubber tree

Hofmann didn’t expect his invention to change the world when he officially patented synthetic rubber in 1909 at the Imperial Patent Office in Berlin. Soon, however, the new substance turned out to be a great advancement in the tyre industry - and beyond it.

Further developments in rubber compounds

The chemists Walter Bock and Eduard Tschunkur, known as Hofmann’s successors, introduced Buna S rubber. It is a substance based on butadiene and styrene which has multiple applications until today, mostly in car tyres, conveyor belts, seals and gaskets. It turned out to be a good solution and it was awarded its own patent in 1929. The name Buna was derived from the first letters of its ingredient, a monomer called butadiene.

Similarly, the invention of oil-resistant nitrile rubber, also known as Perbunan or Buna N, proved to be equally useful.

Synthetic rubber in car parts

As the director for Technical Rubber Products at LANXESS claims, different types of synthetic rubber are needed to meet the industrial requirements these days. He points out that the multitude of tyre types results in a wide range of tyre construction processes, which, consequently, means using numerous elastomers suited to the specific needs of given tyre manufacturers.

Dr Werner Breuers is a member of the board at LANXESS with years of experience in dealing with special chemical substances. He points out that synthetic rubber also allowed for lab testing in high temperatures that natural rubber would not withstand and that it is constantly being improved. As Dr Werner Breuers assures, the rubber that is currently used for tyres can achieve better results in terms of performance, efficiency, safety, and the environment.

Synthetic rubber made the world a mobile place and enabled billions of cars worldwide to drive safely and comfortably. Hofmann’s original invention also set the grounds for variation and further development of tyre technologies. Currently, numerous tyre compounds and rubber blends are used to produce different types of tyres. As new advancements are being introduced at an impressive pace, we can certainly expect better and more eco-friendly materials for tyres, improved efficiency and increased safety on the road.