An elastomer is a polymer with viscoelasticity (having both viscosity and elasticity) and very weak inter-molecular forces, generally having low Young's modulus and high failure strain compared with other materials. The term, which is derived from elastic polymer, is often used interchangeably with the term rubber, although the latter is preferred when referring to vulcanisates. Each of the monomers which link to form the polymer is usually made of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and/or silicon. Elastomers are amorphous polymers existing above their glass transition temperature, so that considerable segmental motion is possible. At ambient temperatures, rubbers are thus relatively soft (E~3MPa) and deformable. Their primary uses are for seals, adhesives and molded flexible parts. Application areas for different types of rubber are manifold and cover segments as diverse as tires, shoe soles as well as dampening and insulating elements. The importance rubbers have can be judged from the fact that global revenues are forecast to rise to US$56 billion in 2020.
Elastomers are usually thermosets (requiring vulcanization) but may also be thermoplastic (see thermoplastic elastomer). The long polymer chains cross-link during curing, i.e., vulcanizing. The molecular structure of elastomers can be imagined as a 'spaghetti and meatball' structure, with the meatballs signifying cross-links. The elasticity is derived from the ability of the long chains to reconfigure themselves to distribute an applied stress. The covalent cross-linkages ensure that the elastomer will return to its original configuration when the stress is removed. As a result of this extreme flexibility, elastomers can reversibly extend from 5-700%, depending on the specific material. Without the cross-linkages or with short, uneasily reconfigured chains, the applied stress would result in a permanent deformation.
Temperature effects are also present in the demonstrated elasticity of a polymer. Elastomers that have cooled to a glassy or crystalline phase will have less mobile chains, and consequentially less elasticity, than those manipulated at temperatures higher than the glass transition temperature of the polymer.
It is also possible for a polymer to exhibit elasticity that is not due to covalent cross-links, but instead for thermodynamic reasons.
Examples of elastomers
Unsaturated rubbers that can be cured by sulfur vulcanization:
- Natural polyisoprene: cis-1,4-polyisoprene natural rubber (NR) and trans-1,4-polyisoprene gutta-percha
- Synthetic polyisoprene (IR for Isoprene Rubber)
- Polybutadiene (BR for Butadiene Rubber)
- Chloropene rubber (CR), polychloroprene, Neoprene, Baypren etc.
- Butyl rubber (copolymer of isobutylene and isoprene, IIR)
- Halogenated butyl rubbers (chloro butyl rubber: CIIR; bromo butyl rubber: BIIR)
- Styrene-butadiene Rubber (copolymer of styrene and butadiene, SBR)
- Nitrile rubber (copolymer of butadiene and acrylonitrile, NBR), also called Buna N rubbers
- Hydrogenated Nitrile Rubbers (HNBR) Therban and Zetpol
(Unsaturated rubbers can also be cured by non-sulfur vulcanization if desired).
Saturated rubbers that cannot be cured by sulfur vulcanization:
- EPM (ethylene propylene rubber, a copolymer of ethylene and propylene) and EPDM rubber (ethylene propylene diene rubber, a terpolymer of ethylene, propylene and a diene-component)
- Epichlorohydrin rubber (ECO)
- Polyacrylic rubber (ACM, ABR)
- Silicone rubber (SI, Q, VMQ)
- Fluorosilicone Rubber (FVMQ)
- Fluoroelastomers (FKM, and FEPM) Viton, Tecnoflon, Fluorel, Aflas and Dai-El
- Perfluoroelastomers (FFKM) Tecnoflon PFR, Kalrez, Chemraz, Perlast
- Polyether block amides (PEBA)
- Chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CSM), (Hypalon)
- Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA)
"The definitions are not authentic as the Rubber which is classified in World Customs Organisation Books in Chapter 40, where as the above definitions stating all rubber and different polymers in same chapter which is classified in Chapter 39 of the World Custom Organisation's Harmonised Commodity for Description and coding system. One should go through all differentiation while editing between Plastics and articles thereof and Rubber and articles thereof."
Various other types of elastomers:
- Thermoplastic elastomers (TPE)
- The proteins resilin and elastin
- Polysulfide rubber
- Elastolefin, elastic fiber used in fabric production