New Rubber Polymer Provides Flexible Alternative for Manufacturing


By Rita Waimer

Move over, bricks. Construction materials of the future could be made from recycled plastic.

Australian scientists have discovered a new type of rubber polymer that has potential for use in a variety of products. The scientists used sulfur and canola oil to create the new polymer, which takes the form of a powder.

This powdered rubber can be compressed, heated, and mixed with fillers to create new, more sustainable materials that could replace cement. It can also be used to make tubing, rubber coatings, bumpers, and possibly other products.

An Alternative to Cement

Cement has been used as a building material for thousands of years. Today, we use it to create everything from buildings to highways and bridges. But it’s a finite resource, and producing cement releases carbon dioxide pollution and uses large amounts of fresh water.

Experts have estimated that producing concrete, which uses cement as a key ingredient, contributes more than eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it accounts for an estimated 20 percent of global industrial water consumption.

The new material, however, is designed to be used and reused. To make the proposed building materials, the rubber polymer would be mixed with waste plant fibers, sand, or recycled PVC —which itself is difficult to recycle.

According to Nic Lundquist of Flinders University, lead author of the study, the rubber particles could first be used to purify water before being used to make a variety of rubber products. And after use, the rubber can be repeatedly ground up and recycled. In this way the new material is more recyclable, and therefore more sustainable, than traditional rubber. It also has other potential applications, making it ideal for use in a circular economy.

A New Manufacturing and Recycling Technique

This new method of recycling materials and manufacturing new ones is called reactive compression molding. It applies to rubber that can be compressed and stretched but doesn’t melt.

In the first step of the process, the scientists used mechanical compression to bring the reactive interfaces of sulfur polymers into contact. They then heated the material to about 100° Celsius, or about 212° Fahrenheit, which causes chemical binding to occur. The sulfur used in the process plays a key role: it provides a unique chemical structure that allows multiple pieces of the rubber to bond together.

This new process and material could change the way we think about manufacturing a variety of products. Whether it’s used to create construction materials for the jobsite or everyday products for use around the house, it provides new opportunities to make our world more sustainable.

Discussion Questions

  • What other commonly used products or materials are hard to recycle?
  • Could this new material be used in other applications? Which ones?


  • Carbon dioxide
  • Circular economy
  • Polymer