SINGAPORE—Cariflex PTE Ltd., a producer of isoprene rubber and polyisoprene rubber latex, will invest $50 million in an expansion of its Paulinia, Brazil, plant, allowing the company to double its production capacity of IR latex in response to global demand.
The facility will be built from the ground up next to Cariflex's existing Paulinia facilities and is expected to be operational by the first quarter of 2021, said Philippe Henderson, sales and marketing leader at Cariflex. The increased capacity at the South American plant will combine with capacity already online at a Cariflex facility in Himeji, Japan, Cariflex said.
Used in dipped goods and specialty medical products such as surgical gloves, condoms and other applications, polyisoprene latex can be a synthetic alternative to natural rubber latex. Cariflex also manufactures isoprene rubber and offers the solid elastomer in 50-pound bales for use in medical stoppers, discs and other rubber pieces.
"With the current strong demand for medical protective equipment such as surgical gloves, we recognize our customers' need to have more material available," Henderson said. "We wouldn't put $50 million in the ground in Brazil if we had no confidence in growth."
Henderson noted that while the polyisoprene rubber latex market has accelerated in both the U.S. and abroad due to the coronavirus pandemic, IR latex boasts another medical advantage that keeps demand high: its hypoallergenic virtues as a synthetic product.
"The market outside the U.S. is really untapped and there is tremendous potential for growth there," Henderson said.
A hypoallergenic option
Right now, polyisoprene rubber latex surgical gloves—much different in protection, sensitivity and fit than examination or other types of polymer-based gloves—usually end up in the U.S., as the country was the first to adopt medical gloves that prevent Type 1 (anaphylactic) allergies.
This is one of the inherent virtues of polyisoprene rubber, Henderson said, because the synthetic version uses a molecule that is similar to that which is found in natural rubber—but does not contain any of the impurities of NR (namely one type of protein that is produced)—that can be absorbed through the skin.