Buna-N (Nitrile) Gaskets and Oil

When working with a gearbox, a pump, or part of a fuel system, it’s essential to select a gasket material with resistance to hydrocarbons. Mineral and vegetable oils, along with diesel, gasoline and similar fuels, attack many materials, causing them to swell or break down. The notable exception is nitrile rubber. Nitrile rubber gaskets, often referred to as Buna-N or NBR gaskets, offer excellent resistance to oil.

Nitrile Rubber Chemistry

Nitrile rubber is made from a blend of acrylonitrile (chemical formula C3H3N) and butadiene (C4H6.) Each component is mixed with water as an emulsion before being combined in a polymerization reaction. This makes the carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) atoms form into long chains that tangle round another to form a rubbery compound.

Increasing the proportion of acrylonitrile makes the rubber stronger and reduces its gas permeability. The trade-off is that it results in a rubber that’s stiffer at low temperatures.

Rubber and Swelling

Most rubber absorbs oil and swells up in size. This is a problem in gaskets used in gearboxes and engines because it can lead to leaks. However, acrylonitrile reduces this tendency. So the greater the proportion of acrylonitrile used in the nitrile rubber formulation the less it will swell.

Swelling is covered in the ASTM D2000 specification. Most nitrile gasket materials are classed as ‘BF,’ ‘BG’ or ‘BK.’ The ‘B’ indicates an upper temperature limit of 100°C and the second letter shows how much the rubber will swell. ‘F’ is swell of 60% by volume, (under specified conditions,) while ‘G’ is 40% and ‘K’ 10%.

When and When Not to use Nitrile Gaskets

Good applications are those where peak temperatures are moderate and there’s exposure to oils. However, nitrile rubber does not hold up well to ozone and oxygen, so should not be used in places where these are present. Water purification equipment is one such location.

The Application Dictates the Gasket Material

If there’s any question about the properties of various gasket materials, consult the specialists at Hennig Gasket. They can explain the material choices available for your application.

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