Karbochem celebrates 50 years in business


PHOTO: Enjoying welcome drinks at the PE event – Adam Simpson, Monika Horni, Sandra Simpson (Continental), Monica Voges, Johann Joubert (Continental), Dieter Horni (Continental)

KARBOCHEM recently hosted gala dinner evenings in Port Elizabeth, Durban and Johannesburg to celebrate 50 years of synthetic rubber production in South Africa.

The celebration dinners were attended by Karbochem customers as well as major suppliers and service providers. Also on the guest list were Karbochem employees who had worked for the company for 40 years or more, some of whom had been around when the first bales of rubber came off the Sasolburg factory production line some 50 years ago!


1964 - synthetic rubber plant opened

It was on 27 November 1964 when the Karbochem synthetic rubber plant at Sasolburg was officially opened by the then Minister of Industries, Nico Diederichs.

Since the first emulsion SBR (Stryrene Butadiene Rubber) was made at Sasolburg, Karbochem has expanded its rubber operations and now also makes low and high cis PBR (Polybutadiene Rubber) and solution SBR at its operations in Newcastle.

Karbochem originally started operations as ‘The Synthetic Rubber Company’ which was the name given to the original company formed as a result of the need for South Africa to be self-sufficient in synthetic rubber production.

The four local tyre companies of that time, along with the IDC, together formed The Synthetic Rubber Company, obtaining initial technology from overseas for the manufacture of ESBR (Emulsion Styrene Butadiene Rubber). The plant was built in 1963, with the first production taking place in mid-1964. Operations were specifically developed at Sasolburg based on the assumption that nearby plants would supply the two major raw materials, those being Butadiene and Styrene.

In 1967 the first major change took place when Sentrachem bought the shares of the Synthetic Rubber Company and changed the name to Karbochem.


Second synthetic rubber site established at Newcastle in the 1980’s

During the 1970’s, the South African Government, foreseeing the need for a higher dependency on locally produced products, requested industry to look at alternatives to natural rubber. Sentrachem, through Karbochem, took on this challenge and in the early 1980’s a second synthetic rubber site was established at Newcastle in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Originally low cis BR was produced in 1982, and by 1983 the first polyisoprene was made.

However, the economics of the time, which saw natural rubber prices in the region of US$750/t, made it financially impossible for synthetic polyisoprene to continue and the IR plant was closed in 1991. One of the spin offs of this IR plant was the introduction of 3,4 polyisoprene which is a specialty polymer improving the wet grip of high performance tyres. Isogrip (3,4 IR) is still being made at the Karbochem Newcastle facility today.


Neodene developed, worldwide recognition

Using its own technology, Karbochem developed a high cis BR (Neodymium catalysed) known as Neodene. Neodene has become widely accepted in the rubber industry worldwide and enjoys global recognition as being one of the best performing NdBR’s.

Dow Chemicals then bought Sentrachem in 1998, and managed the company until 2003 at which time Dow made the decision to disinvest and Karbochem became a locally owned and managed company.

While there was a lot of reminiscing at Karbochem’s 50th celebration functions, it also allowed for both Karbochem and its partners to celebrate the relationships that have built up over time. The company looks forward to the future, fully aware of the challenges that face the global rubber industry, and remains committed to innovation, quality and providing excellent service for another 50 years.