Butadiene is one of the most common components that is used in the process of making synthetic elastomers. With its two carbon-carbon double bonds, it is one of the most useful chemical building blocks, that is able to convert a monomer to a polymer, and then form a strong polymer chain that leads to the final product. Butadiene became very popular during and after WWII, due to the shortage of natural rubber. This synthetic product was a revolutionary alternative, that is still used to produce tires and many other rubber products today.
Here at Stern, we use two types of rubber that use butadiene as one of the starting components, and those are SBR (Styrene Butadiene) and NBR (Nitrile Butadiene). SBR is used in many of our products, and is typically mixed with other compounds to form a less expensive material, that offers the flexibility of SBR along with the resistant properties of things like neoprene or natural rubber. As for NBR, we use this material in a very similar way, but it also offers some great resistant qualities of its own that can protect it from harsh conditions like gasoline and extreme heat.
With butadiene based products being very popular here at Stern, they are also one of the most common forms of rubber used by many other manufactures around the world. Yet like anything with a great amount of demand, comes the need for a large supply. Nearly all the butadiene used in the world is a byproduct of ethylene steam crackers. Yet these steam crackers are also a heavy cracking feedstock that is able to produce the butadiene, the heavier the feedstock the more butadiene produced, and this is where the problem lies. With a change in technology and ethane becoming fairly inexpensive, many are moving toward lighter, less expensive feedstocks, which is leading to less and less butadiene. Experts do not see this issue improving any time soon either. Countries all across the globe are experimenting with new, more efficient forms of cracking, with even the largest producer of butadiene, China, beginning to create a new process of making ethylene that extracts the product from coal. Although the reduction of butadiene is currently the trend, many believe it will not be for long, as engineers are looking to develop ways to extract butadiene through forms other than steam cracking and believe it may be more effective than old methods.
Just as SBR came about due to the shortage of natural rubber, butadiene will rebound in a similar way. Whether that is finding a new method of extraction, or a more economical alternative, the production of synthetic rubber will not come to an abrupt halt, but rather a smooth transition.