To start off, what exactly is neoprene?
Neoprene is basically foamed rubber, sometimes called a sponge. It can be laminated on one or two sides of the fabric, usually polyester or nylon in a jersey knit.
The sponge is made from poly-chloroprene rubber chips, commonly called neoprene. These are melted and mixed together with foaming (blowing) agents and pigment, usually carbon black, and baked in an oven to make it expand.
To make the poly-chloroprene chips, the manufacturer polymerizes chloroprene monomers, which means reacting small molecules together to produce the large macromolecules (polymers) that make up rubber. There are two methods of manufacturing chloroprene monomer. The most common method – Method 1 – takes butadiene through a two-step process of chlorination and subsequent de-hydro chlorination. The butadiene for Method 1 is derived from petroleum.
Most people can imagine the environmental impacts of something derived from petroleum.
Like gasoline and most synthetic chemicals, the origins of butadiene for making chloroprene via Method 1 start with oil exploration and drilling. Then the crude must be transported. (Images of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the Exxon Valdez, and birds dying in oil spills come to mind.)
At the refinery, components of crude oil are broken apart and separated to make different organic compounds, including butadiene.
The less commonly used method is to dimerize acetylene (react 2 acetylene molecules together to form a double molecule) and then hydro-chlorinate the dimer.
The acetylene for this Method 2 is derived from limestone.
The environmental impacts of something derived from limestone, might be more unfamiliar.
Like oil, limestone is a limited, nonrenewable resource that is extracted from the earth. Limestone rock is mined from mountains, and requires diesel-powered equipment such as cranes, backhoes, and dump trucks the size of houses. The crushed limestone is fed into a furnace and heated to extremely high temperatures (over 3600º F / 2000º C) in an energy-intensive process. From the furnace, components are reacted with other chemicals to make products such as acetylene gas.
Chloroprene derived from either petroleum or limestone are chemically equivalent. Polymerized and made into chips, limestone-based poly-chloroprene is not inherently stronger or more flexible than petroleum-based poly-chloroprene nor does it insulate better. Any advantage of one fabric or another relies on differences in manufacturing methods used to create the sponge.
We wanted to do something more environmental friendly than petroleum and limestone based ”neoprene”.
What we use is Yulex® natural rubber.
The Yulex® natural rubber in our products come from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council® certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
Only 0,5% of the world's natural rubber supply currently comes from FSC certified sources.
The Forest Stewardship Council is the gold standard of forest management because it protects water quality, prevents loss of natural forest cover, prohibits highly hazardous chemicals, protects customary rights of indigenous people and local communities, limits clearcuts to protect forest ecology, protects high conservation value forests, and governs in a democratic and transparent way.
By replacing conventional neoprene with Yulex® we are able to reduce CO2 emissions by ≈80% compared to conventional neoprene products.