Silicone, also known as polysiloxane, is a polymer that typically takes the form of colorless oils, resins, or substances similar to rubber. Silicone can be used in a variety of ways, including as adhesives, sealants, lubricants, electronics, cookware, and types of insulation. As manufacturers across many industries move toward more environmentally conscious processes and solutions, you might be wondering, “Is silicone eco-friendly?” The short answer is yes, silicone is eco-friendly, especially when compared to its counterparts like plastic and rubber. In fact, the demand for silicone continues to grow and expand with broader applications as awareness increases around the use of environmentally friendly materials. At Smartech, we offer high-quality silicone membranes with uses and applications across many industries, including automotive, woodworking, glass, and solar.
What Is Silicone Made Of?
Silicone is made from silica, which is one of the most common minerals on earth. Silicone rubber is made of silicone, which is a polymer that contains silicon, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Inert silicone is a form of synthetic rubber derived from sand and combined with oxygen, which makes it a more natural substance. Silicone rubber is known as an elastomer, which is a rubber-like material that is often made of one- or two-part polymers. Some silicone rubbers may also contain fillers that help improve their properties and reduce associated costs. Silicone elastomers were originally developed as a solution for better insulation in electric motors and generators for greater heat resistance. Now, silicone rubber comes in a wide variety of formulations depending on the needs and usages for the industry and applications.
In general, silicone rubber is so popular because of its ability to maintain useful properties in high temperatures and extreme environments. Silicone comes in two states: cured and uncured. When silicone rubber is in an uncured state, it takes the form of a liquid or highly adhesive gel. Cured silicone rubber refers to when it takes a solid shape, a conversion process also referred to as vulcanization or catalysis. Silicone rubber can also be manufactured into a specific desired shape through a prolonged post-cure process, 3D printed, or injection molded.
Silicone vs. Plastic
On the surface, silicone and plastic may seem like they can offer similar benefits and solutions across many industries. However, silicone is far more durable and eco-friendly than plastic. When choosing the right materials for a product or industry application, you want to get the safest and most effective options. Silicone resists degradation in high temperatures and extreme environments, while plastic will break down into microfragments that end up littering our waterways. Unlike the more natural origins of silicone, plastic is petroleum-based and comprised of many chemicals. While plastic easily cracks or stiffens with age, silicone can last for decades unchanged. Many plastics are also not safe for high heat applications, while silicone can withstand a wider temperature range of -100* to 250* Celcius. Finally, silicone exceeds food safety standards in both the United States and the European Union, making it a considerably more healthy and safe option for people and the planet.
Silicone vs. Rubber
Silicone as an elastomer looks and functions like rubber, though silicone does have differences compared to organic or natural rubber. In fact, the carbon compounds in organic rubber make it far more susceptible to extreme heat and other aging factors that silicone can better withstand. This is why silicone products are valued higher for applications and products in extreme environments. Silicone rubber also does not react to most chemicals, while organic rubber is more susceptible to interaction problems with active ingredients. Silicone has a stronger chemical stability, which makes it a better choice for food and medical industries, too. Overall, natural rubber is less resistant to heat, chemicals, UV, and ozone exposure than silicone rubber.
Why Silicones Are More Environmentally Friendly & Sustainable
Silicone products are more environmentally friendly and stable because of their versatility and durability, which is why it garners the nickname “green rubber.” Silicone lasts much longer than plastic or rubber, and while it is recyclable, it is not biodegradable. However, silicone has a much smaller impact on the environment compared to plastic because it does not break down into microplastics that pollute waterways and oceans. Here are the pros, cons, and benefits of silicone across a variety of industries and applications:
Pros and Cons of Silicone
Silicone is made from silica, which is a natural mineral easily found across the planet in the sand. Silicone can be recycled and has extreme flexibility and durability, even in extreme temperatures or environments. Unlike plastic or rubber, silicone does not damage easily and can withstand extreme and repeated exposure without breaking down. Plastic has a far greater negative environmental impact than silicone, due in large part to silicone’s extreme durability. Silicone also does not release toxins or harmful chemicals and leaving further negative impacts on people or the planet.
While silicone is the better choice compared to its plastic or rubber counterparts, there are a few cons to consider. The process of turning silica into silicone does rely on non-renewable resources, including natural gas and oil, which is why silicone is not considered biodegradable. Silicone also requires a specialized recycling process, though it can also be downcycled into other products. While silicone has the benefits of flexibility and durability, not all silicone rubber products are made the same. It is important to invest in silicone products that are high-quality, sustainable, and safe.
Benefits of Using Silicone
The hybrid nature of silicone material makes it a much more eco-friendly option than plastic, which is entirely man-made. When you use silicone products for your project or industry application, you can expect the highest caliber of durability, especially compared to similar materials like plastic or rubber. Benefits of silicone include:
— Thermal stability
— Water resistance
— Low thermal conductivity
— Low toxicity
— Insulation properties
The Importance of Choosing the Greener Rubber
Extend the life of your product or manufacturing process by investing in durable and reliable silicone materials, the greener rubber. Silicone offers high durability in high-performance situations while also offering savings in energy and water usage and reducing emissions and waste. Silicone is a cost-effective material that helps support the bottom line without sacrificing high-quality expectations. When you invest in the greener rubber, you will decrease the consumption of materials and natural resources, reducing the overall impact on the environment. Avoid harsh and dangerous chemicals and work with a product that functions consistently better at resistance to extreme temperatures, water, chemicals, and deformation.
Silicone Membranes and Industry Applications
Visit Smartech to learn more about our silicone membranes for use across specific industries. Our smooth and textured silicone membrane options are designed to meet your needs and specifications. Smartech partners with Steinbach to provide high-quality silicone membranes for use in multiple industries, including woodworking, solar, aerospace, automotive, medical, composites, and glass lamination. Whether you call it a membrane, bladder, diaphragm, or anything else, our team understands what you mean and is here to help you find the best product for your application. For more information on all our silicone membrane products, contact our team of experts, your source for all things Steinbach at Smartech International.