Online Encyclopedia

INDIARUBBER RUBBER

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 797 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: del.icio.us del.icio.us it!
INDIARUBBER RUBBER Or CAOUTCHOUC (a word probably derived from Cahucha or Caucho the names in Ecuador and Peru respectively for rubber or the tree producing it), the chief constituent of the coagulated milky juice or latex furnished by a number of different trees, shrubs and vines. The latex of the best rubber plants furnishes from 20 to 50% of rubber. The latex is not to be confused with the sap of trees, on the circulation of which their nutrition depends. Though frequently occurring, it is not a universal feature of plant life, and does not appear to be necessary or even directly connected with the nutritive system of plants. Its exact function is not fully understood. Latex, though chiefly secreted in vessels or small sacs which reside in the cortical tissue between the outer bark and the wood is also found in the leaves and sometimes in the roots or bulbs. The trees and plants whose latices furnish caoutchouc in considerable quantity chiefly belong to the natural orders Euphorbiaceae, Urticaceae, Apocynaceae, Asclepiadaceae. The latex is usually obtained from the bark or stem by making an incision reaching almost to the wood when the milky fluid flows more or less readily from the laticiferous vessels. It is, like milk, an emulsion, and when examined with the microscope is seen to consist 'of numerous globules suspended in a watery fluid. On standing, some latices separate, more or less readily, into an upper layer resembling cream and consisting of the globules, and a lower watery layer. This separation can be rapidly effected with some latices by the use of a centrifugal machine, but this method has not yet been applied to any extent commercially. The globules which furnish the cream gradually pass on standing into solid caoutchouc, a process which is facilitated by rapid stirring; or by the addition of an acid or other chemical agent. If the latex is warmed or an acid, an alkali or astringent plant juice is added to it, " coagulation " usually takes place more or less readily, the caoutchouc separating in solid flakes or curds. The efficacy of heat or of an acid, an alkali or other agent in promoting coagulation depends on the character of the latex, and varies with that obtained from different plants. The watery fluid in which the globules are suspended holds certain proteids, carbohydrates and a small proportion of salts in solution. The latex exhibits a neutral, acid or alkaline reaction depending upon the plant from which it has been obtained. When exposed to air the latex gradually undergoes putrefactive changes accompanied by coagulation of the caoutchouc. The addition of a small quantity of ammonia or of formalin to some latices usually has the effect of preserving them for a considerable time. The nature of the coagulation is not yet completely understood. It has been compared with that of milk and of blood, which depend essentially on the coagulation or separation in curds of a proteid or albuminous substance, such as takes place when white of egg is warmed. There is, however, reason to believe that the coagulation of latex into rubber is not mainly of this character. The globules in the latex are liquid, and the phenomenon of coagulation would seem to consist in the passage of this liquid into solid caoutchouc through the kind of change known as polymerization or condensation, in which a liquid passes into solid without alteration of composition or by condensation with the elimination of the elements of water. The effect of chemical agents in producing coagulation are in consonance with what is known of other instances of polymeric or condensation changes, whilst the fact that the collection of globules separated by creaming after thorough washing, and therefore removal of all proteid, is susceptible of solidification into caoutchouc by a merely mechanical act such as churning, strongly supports the view that the character of the change is distinct from that of any alteration which may occur in the proteid constituents of the latex. The existence of caoutchouc or rubber was first observed soon after the discovery of America. It was noticed that certain Indian tribes of South America played with a ball composed of a resilient and elastic substance, which afterwards was found to possess the power of removing lead pencil marks from paper and came into commerce as " Indian Rubber." It was not until the middle of the 18th century that the trees which yielded caoutchouc were identified, chiefly by French observers. La Condamine ascertained the nature of the tree, now known as Hevea brasiliensis, from which the Para rubber of S. America was obtained, whilst a little later Fresnau and Aublet described the Euphorbiaceous trees which furnished the rubber of Guiana. The methods adopted by the natives in S. America and in Mexico for incising the trees and obtaining the rubber are exceedingly primitive, but survive with little modification at the present day. Statistics of Rubber Production.—Until recently rubber was obtained almost exclusively from the tropical forests of S. and Central America, E. and W. Africa and Asia, being the produce of naturally occurring trees and vines. The increase in the demand, for which the employment of rubber tires is largely responsible, has given an increased stimulus to the production of " wild " rubber, with the result that trees and vines have been recklessly cut and destroyed, and in some instances vast regions, as in the S. Sudan, have been nearly entirely denuded of rubber vines. This has led to restrictive measures, the vines being tapped under definite regulations as to the manner and time of tapping, and also to requirements as to replanting vines to take the place of those which have been injured or destroyed, certain areas being periodically closed. Such measures, which are now in operation in the French Sudan, the Congo and in German W. and E. Africa, can, however, only be enforced by special administrative machinery and at considerable expense, and this legislative action can only be regarded as temporary and preliminary to the establishment of plantations of rubber trees, which are not only easier to control, but the trees are less liable to injury from careless tapping. In Africa it seems probable that the production of rubber from vines is likely to be entirely superseded in process of time, and replaced by the plantations of trees which are already being established in those districts in which careful experiment has determined the kind of rubber tree best adapted to the locality. The forests of tropical America have suffered similarly, trees having been injured or destroyed and in some cases cut down in order to secure the immediate increase of supply which was called for by a considerable rise in value. The result has been that in the forests of Brazil and Mexico the conservation of rubber trees has received greater attention, whilst new and extensive areas are planted in S. and Central America. The wild rubber of S. and Central America is still the principal source of the rubber supply of the world, and is likely to continue to be so for many years to come. Although the cost of transport from the remote forest regions of some districts is a serious consideration, this is not likely to be operative in reducing production until there has been a considerable and permanent fall in price, by which time new areas in those countries in which planting is now taking place will probably have come into bearing. The enormous increase in the commercial demand for rubber and the probability of the continuance of this increase in viewof the great variety of purposes to which the material can be applied, has led to great activity in rubber planting in other parts of the world, especially in Ceylon and the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago, where the Para rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis) has been successfully introduced, and numerous plantations, many of which have not been in existence for more than ten or fifteen years, are now contributing to the world's supply. This rubber is known as " Plantation " rubber in contradistinction to the " wild " rubber. " Plantation " Para rubber from Ceylon and the Malay States has brought prices equal to and often exceeding those of fine Para rubber from Brazil. This is largely due to the improved methods of preparing the rubber practised by the planters of Ceylon and Malaya, which lead to the exclusion of the impurities usually found in " wild " rubber. Para rubber from Brazil generally contains about 15% of water, whilst " plantation " Para is usually nearly dry and contains I% of water or less. It would appear, however, that the finest " wild " Para rubber as a rule possesses greater tensile strength than the " plantation " rubber. This has been ascribed by some to the presence in " wild " rubber of certain impurities derived either from the latex or introduced during the preparation of the rubber which are thought to enhance the physical properties of the caoutchouc. It is more probable, however, that the superiority of the " wild " Para is principally due to the greater age of the forest trees from which the rubber is obtained, many of which are from thirty to fifty years old. It is well known that the Hevea tree usually furnishes very inferior rubber if tapped before it is six or seven years old, and there is evidence to show that the quality of the rubber improves with the age of the tree. The oldest of the plantation trees of Ceylon and Malaya are not much more than twelve years old, whilst it is to be feared that immature trees are often tapped and their latex mixed with that of older trees before coagulation, thus forming inferior rubber. It is therefore to be expected that as time goes on the quality of " plantation " rubber will improve, and there would seem to be no reason why it should not eventually be fully equal to that of the " wild " rubber. In 1909 the total production of rubber is stated to have been about 70,000 tons, of which more than one-half came from tropical America, about one-third from Africa, whilst the remainder was chiefly of Asiatic origin, including " plantation " rubber from Ceylon and Malaya, which amounted to about 3000 tons. Chiefly owing to the supplies of " wild " rubber which are still available, comparatively little has been done until recently in establishing plantations either in Africa or in tropical America, but in Asia, including Ceylon, India and Malaya, in which there are relatively few important naturally-occurring rubber plants, there has been for some years great activity in forming plantations of rubber trees introduced mainly from tropical America, and there are now many millions sterling of British capital invested in companies established to form rubber plantations chiefly in Ceylon and Malaya. Each years should therefore show an increase in the production of plantation rubber. No trustworthy estimate of the rate of the increase of production can, however, be formed, as several uncertain economic factors have to be taken into account. Among these are the precise extent of demand, the limit of the inevitable fall in price with largely increased production, the cost of labour as increasing amounts are required, and the effect of changed conditions on the output of " wild " rubber and the competition of the new plantations which are being established in tropical America. There can be little doubt that with a fall in price further uses for rubber would arise, leading to an increased demand, and among them may be mentioned its utilization as a road material. Difficulties in the supply of labour in the East may hinder the further development of the rubber-planting industry, especially at a period when a reduction in the cost of production may be the chief problem. In 1909 the average cost of producing " plantation " rubber in Ceylon and Malaya may be stated approximately to have been from 'od. to Is. per lb. The cost of collecting " wild " rubber is less easy to state with any approach to accuracy, since the cost varies in different districts of S. and Central America, but the average cost is stated not to be less than Is. per lb. In Africa the cost of collection is much less, but the rubber is generally of inferior quality. The market price of commercial rubber is determined by the current price of " fine Para " from S. America. This is subject to considerable fluctuation, "and varied in 'goo to 1go8 from 2s. rod. to 5s. 9d. a lb. As much as 6s. gd. per lb was given for specially prepared " plantation Para." Towards the latter part of 1904 the price of fine Para reached a high level and then considerably declined, reaching in' 907-8 a lower figure than had been recorded since 'goo. At the beginning of 1908 the price gradually rose again to the neighbourhood of 4s. a lb. During 1909, without any serious decline in production, the price rapidly rose, owing to extraordinary causes, to about ros. a lb, and in the early part of 1910 rose to over 12s. a lb, and subsequently fell to about half this.price. Having regard to the present cost of producing " plantation " rubber, and to the probability that, apart from a possible increase in the price of labour, this cost is susceptible of further reduction, it may be concluded that rubber production will continue to be profitable even should a considerable fall in market value take place. The Principal Rubber Trees, their Cultivation, and the Preparation of Rubber.—Most commercial rubber is derived from natural supplies, from the wild rubber trees of S. and Central America, India and Africa. Each year, however, the output of " plantation " rubber will show a considerable increase, and it is to be expected that ultimately this will form the chief source of supply, unless unforeseen circumstances should arise to interfere with the development of the plantation industry, which has been vigorously started chiefly with European capital in the tropical possessions of Great Britain, France and Germany. The best rubber is now obtained from large trees, of which the following are the more important: I. " Para " rubber, which takes the first position in the market, is derived from species of Hevea, principally Hevea brasiliensis, of which there are enormous forests in the valleys of the Amazon and its tributaries, and also in Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Guiana. In Brazil alone it is stated that the rubber area amounts to at least one million sq. m. The tree has been recently planted with great success especially in Ceylon and Malaya (Plate figs. II and 12). 2. " Ceara " or Manigoba rubber is derived from species of Manihot, chiefly Manihot Glaziovii, a native of S. America especially abundant in Brazil, and successfully introduced into other countries (Plate fig. 13). The latex of this tree flows less freely than that of Hevea brasiliensis, and the collection of large quantities of the latex is attended with considerable difficulty. The latex is therefore usually allowed to coagulate on the tree, as it slowly exudes from the incision. On this account it is often exported in strings or " scrap " and not usually in biscuits or balls. Partly for this reason and partly because pieces of wood and dirt are apt to be included with the scrap, the market value of Ceara rubber is usually less than that of Para. The plantations of Manihot established in E. Africa, Ceylon and S. India have, however, begun to furnish a better quality of Ceara rubber, which is often prepared in biscuit form. Other species of Manihot are also under trial, and some give promise of good results, especially M. dichotoma and M. heptaphylla. 3. The " Ule " rubber of Central America and British Honduras originates from Castilloa elastica. In S. America its natural occurrence appears to be limited to west of the Andes, but the tree is abundant in Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The rubber comes into commerce in thick strips or sheets or as " scrap." The rubber is usually dark in colour and is often contaminated with proteid impurities derived from the latex. Ule rubber is generally inferior in strength to Para and commands a lower price. The Castilloa tree has been experimentally planted in Ceylon, the West Indies and other countries (Plate fig. 14). Other trees occurring in S. America which furnish rubber of secondary commercial importance are Hancornia speciosa, yielding the Mangabeira rubber of Brazil, and species of Sapium furnishing the Colombian rubber and much of the rubber of Guiana (derived from Sapium Jenmani), which is scarcely inferior to the rubber of Para. 4. " Rambong " or Assam rubber is the produce of Ficus elastica, commonly known as the indiarubber tree and cultivated in Europe as an ornamental plant. This tree, indigenous to Asia, attains largedimensions in India, Celon and the Malay Archipelago (Plate fig. 15). It furnishes most of the rubber of India, Sumatra and Java. Although intrinsically of excellent quality, Rambong rubber, owing to the careless method of collection practised by the natives which leads to the inclusion of much impurity, usually fetches a lower price than Para. The tree has been introduced into W. Africa and Egypt, but has not proved very successful in Africa as a rubber producer. 5. " Lagos rubber is the produce of the African rubber tree Funtumia elastica, which is indigenous to Africa from Uganda to W. Africa (Plate fig. 16). It is known as the silk rubber tree, probably on account of the silky hairs which are attached to the seeds. The latex, which is usually coagulated by standing or by heating, is obtained from incisions in the bark of the tree. The rubber is of good quality, though, owing to the method of preparation adopted, the product is often impure and discoloured, and consequently usually brings a lower price than the best rubbers of commerce. 6. Besides the trees described above, a number of climbing plants or vines belonging to the Apocyanaceae secrete a latex which furnishes rubber of good quality. These vines are less satisfactory than trees as rubber producers, owing to the readiness with which they are injured and destroyed by careless tapping, and to the difficulty of regulating these methods in the case of vines distributed over enormous areas of forest. Of these vines the most important are the species of Landolphia which occur throughout tropical Africa, including the Sudan, Congo, Mozambique and Madagascar, the principal of which are Landolphia owariensis and L. Heudelotii, common throughout W. Africa, and L. Kirkii and L. Dawei in E. Africa. The rubber is obtained by incising the stems of the vines and coagulating the latex by exposure, by admixture with acid vegetable juices or by heating. Landolphia rubber is usually roughly prepared and in consequence commands a low price. The vines of species of Clitandra and Carpodinus in W. Africa also furnish good rubber, as do the Forsteronia gracilis of British Guiana and Forsteronia floribunda of Jamaica. Vines resembling Landolphias are widely distributed in Asia. Among these are species of Willughbeia and Leuconotis, from which much of the rubber exported from Borneo is derived; Parameria glandulifera, common in Siam and Borneo, and Urceola esculenta and Cryptostegia grandiflora, both common in Burma. Among other sources from which rubber is commercially obtained may be mentioned the Guayule plant (Parthenium argentatum) of Mexico, and the "Ecanda " plant of Portuguese W. Africa, from the tuberous roots of which rubber is extracted by the natives. The " Ecanda " plant has been named Raphionacme utilis. The root rubber prepared by the natives of the Congo and the S. Sudan is extracted partly from the roots of Landolphia or from the rhizomes of Landolphia Thollonii or Carpodinus lanceolatus. It is obtained by breaking up the roots or rhizomes in hot water and separating the rubber, and machines have now been devised for this purpose. Little is at present known of the large rubber tree of Tonkin (Bleckrodea tonkinensis), the latex of which is stated to furnish excellent rubber.
End of Article: INDIARUBBER RUBBER
[back]
RUABON (Rhiwabon)
[next]
RUBBLE

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.