Bridgestone to develop guayule-based rubber
Only a week after Cooper Tire & Rubber stated it will partner with Yulex Corporation on the development and evaluation of guayule as a source of natural rubber, Bridgestone Corporation has announced plans of its own to develop the plant into a commercially viable alternative to the hevea tree. The research project will be conducted in the United States as a joint collaboration between Bridgestone Corporation and Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations; the Japanese parent company will provide funding and strategic input, while the American subsidiary will be responsible for finding the suitable location and operating the pilot farm and process research facility. Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations will also leverage the resources of the Bridgestone Americas Center for Research and Technology and its Akron Technical Center to provide technical and research expertise.
Preparation for the joint project is currently underway. Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations is looking for suitable land in the south-western United States to establish the pilot farm and construct the rubber process research centre. Research and development will be conducted by a dedicated research team of agricultural scientists, engineers and process technicians focused on optimising the agronomic and processing technologies necessary to produce world-class, tyre-grade rubber in adequate quantities appropriate for manufacturing.
Bridgestone says it expects to finalise a location, establish the research farm and begin construction on the process research centre later in 2012. The facility is expected to be fully operational in 2014 and should begin trial rubber production the following year.
Almost identical qualities to hevea rubber
Guayule, pronounced ‘why-u-lee’, is a perennial shrub native to the south-western United States and northern Mexico. This plant produces natural rubber in its bark and roots. Natural rubber from guayule has almost identical qualities compared to natural rubber harvested from hevea trees. In carrying out its new research Bridgestone will leverage the knowledge and experience gained through its participation in a guayule research project with the US Department of Agriculture from 1988 to 1991, which focused on extracting rubber for tyres from the biomass of Guayule. The successful commercial development of guayule will reduce the tyre and rubber industry’s heavy reliance on Hevea Brasiliensis, which has a limited growing area as it restricted to tropical climates close to the equator. By contrast, guayule is native to desert climates, thus giving it a huge potential growing area.
“This is such an exciting and innovative project,” said Bill Niaura, director of New Business Development for Bridgestone Americas, Inc. “It will not only help our companies meet the strong, anticipated growth in demand for natural rubber, but also constitutes a potential breakthrough for the rubber industry. This project demonstrates our commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability through its potential to develop a renewable resource for natural rubber that can be grown, harvested and processed closer to market.”
As demand for tyres is expected to increase in both the short and long term, the Bridgestone Group says it “embraces its responsibility to develop technologies and business practices that encourage conservation of finite natural resources.” Through efforts such as the guayule research project, the tyre maker claims it is working to develop technologies and processes that reduce, reuse and recycle raw materials. The company is also working to develop tyres using 100 per cent sustainable materials, utilising both renewable and recyclable resources. In addition to the guayule project, other projects to research and develop concept tyres made from sustainable materials are currently under way; Bridgestone says it will share additional information about those projects “in the near future.”