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What is isoprene?

Isoprene (C5H8) is a colourless liquid with an aromatic odour. It is insoluble in water, soluble in alcohol and because of its low vapour pressure and double bonds is very reactive.

Commercially viable quantities of isoprene are extracted under tightly controlled conditions from a by-product stream of ethylene manufacture and are therefore essentially derived from crude oil via a number of extraction steps.

How is isoprene used?

The polymerisation of isoprene using catalysts yields a synthetic rubber, polyisoprene, which closely resembles natural rubber. Polyisoprene is used in a wide variety of rubber applications including medical equipment, baby bottle teats/nipples, toys, shoe soles, tyres, and elastic films and threads for golf balls or textiles. It is also used in adhesives and in paints and coatings.

Butyl rubber, made from isobutene with a small amount of isoprene, using an aluminium chloride initiator, has outstanding impermeability to gases and is used, for example, in inner tubes. Styrene-isoprene-rubber is a copolymer that is used in pressure sensitive adhesives.

An isoprene-based viscosity improver, Shellvis, is sold by Infineum, the Shell-Exxon additives company, while isoprene can also be used in the production of agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and other fine chemicals.

What are our key strengths in isoprene sector?

  • Unlike many other isoprene producers, Shell chemicals companies are also ethylene producers, affording better and more consistent access to crude C5s, the feedstock for isoprene production.          
  • Global logistics capabilities.
  • Experienced sales support staff.

The ancient Mayan people used natural latex from the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis, to make rubber items more than 3000 years ago; today a very similar material to natural rubber is derived by polymerising isoprene.

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