Concern about the release of eco-toxic zinc species from rubbers into the environment leads to an increasing interest in potential substitutes. Although alternative metal oxides and zinc compounds as activators for sulfur vulcanization have been studied thoroughly, at present no viable alternative has been found to eliminate ZnO completely from rubber compounds, without significantly jeopardizing processing as well as performance characteristics.

In this paper, the application of a new activator for sulfur vulcanization will be discussed. This activator is developed based on the assumption that an increase in the availability of Zn2+-ions could lead to a considerable reduction of ZnO in rubber compounds. Montmorillonite clay was used as carrier material and loaded with Zn2+-ions via an ion-exchange process.

Application in a wide range of natural and synthetic rubbers has been explored. Results clearly demonstrate that this Zn-Clay can substitute conventional ZnO, retaining the curing and physical properties of the rubber products but reducing the zinc concentration with a factor 10 to 20. Model Compound Vulcanization studies have been used to gain an insight into the mechanism of this activator.

It can be concluded that systems with Zn2+-ions on a support represent a new and novel route to reduce the zinc level, and therefore to minimize its environmental impact significantly.

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