Thermoplastic Elastomers vs. Natural Rubber: Adaptable Polymers and the Role of TPE Process Oil 

Mar 1, 2024 | Environment, Product Applications

The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) industry is growing faster than ever, projected to grow from about 10 million metric tons in 2025 at a rate of 5% throughout the decade. 

This is not surprising when you take into account the numerous industries in which TPEs play a part. Their many advantages make them perfect for applications in: 

  • Hand and power tools,
  • Automotive,
  • Houseware and appliances,
  • Medical applications,
  • Fire retardants, and many more. 

What is it about TPEs specifically that makes them so well suited for such a wide array of products? 

The Origin And Development of TPEs

In 1926, Waldo Lonsbury Semon, a chemist working in Ohio, invented plasticized polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Plasticized PVC was softer, and more flexible than non-plasticized PVC had been, and its discovery opened the door for further research into how to create a new kind of plastic. 

The goal was to combine the characteristics of elastomers like rubber, which are stretchable, flexible, and soft, with plastics, which can be melted and shaped easily and have greater processing efficiency. 

Scientists across the world began working towards this goal. The first class of TPEs to hit the market, thermoplastic polyurethane polymers, came on the scene around 1950 and were quickly integrated into a large number of product applications. 

TPEs vs. Rubber

Why were scientists so excited to develop TPEs when elastic products like rubber already existed (and had existed for thousands of years)? 


The answer is largely because of the effects of cross-linking vulcanization. Vulcanization is the process that uses heat, chemical bonds and pressure to make rubber strong and able to return to its initial shape even after large deformations. 

This is what makes rubber products tough and durable like car tires instead of soft like chewing gum. This cross-linking provides shape memory, which means rubber products rebound to the form they were molded. 

But it also makes rubber products single-use only, as once a product is formed and vulcanized it cannot be undone. 

TPE Reusability

TPEs on the other hand, because they’re plastics, can be remelted and reused. This has two major benefits for someone using TPEs instead of rubber. 

  1. Because excess trim and scrap material can be recycled instead of thrown away, businesses using TPEs reduce their environmental impact, an economic benefit in and of itself but also one that consumers recognize and value. 
  2. TPEs can also help a business’s bottom line. When rubber is cut into shape, the excess must be discarded, but with TPEs that excess can be reused again and again so that it still works toward turning a profit

Special Uses of TPEs

Now used in everything from toothbrushes to dog bowls to diving fins, TPEs are incredibly versatile, providing soft touch and consumer value. However, certain TPE-based products require specialized characteristics for their specific applications. 

Example: Automotive Uses of TPEs

One such use is in automotive applications. A huge share of the TPE market is devoted to creating things like instrument panels, soft touch controls and interior trim, weather seals, and bumpers in cars. 

By using the right process oil, companies can significantly reduce the effect of automotive fogging created by their TPE products without sacrificing the “soft touch” that consumers love. 

Example: Medical Uses of TPEs

Another growing application of TPEs is in medical tubing. Because of their flexibility, TPEs are perfect for making these tubes, but it’s important that they meet the high standards of health and safety required for human contact and medical use. 

By using medical-grade extender oils that meet stringent requirements for numerous quality certifications, TPEs can be  safely used in medical applications. 

Sourcing TPE Process Oils from Renkert Oil – Case Study: Star Thermoplastics

Renkert Oil is proud to partner with businesses, such as Star Thermoplastics (a Hexpol TPE Company), that create so many of the TPE products that consumers use every day. 

Throughout our long relationship, Renkert Oil’s engineers have worked closely with Star Thermoplastics to develop specialty oil products with the specifications that they need to serve a wide breadth of industries. 

In fact, the process oil mentioned above that reduces automotive fogging, Renoil 1500-LV, was built in partnership with Star Thermoplastics for use in their many automotive products and was shown to reduce fogging by 40%

Renkert Oil is a flexible specialty oil supplier, nimble enough to respond to a client’s specific needs and large enough to provide the volume and consistency needed for businesses producing such widespread products. 

To learn more about following in the footsteps of Start Thermoplastics and making Renkert Oil your specialty oil supplier, contact us today