Guayule consortium holds progress update meeting
Cooper Tire & Rubber and its guayule rubber research consortium partners have reviewed initial progress on their US$6.9 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant from the USDA and the US Department of Energy. The meeting highlighted significant progress being made in several areas, including guayule plant genome sequencing needed for future breeding tools, irrigation studies to maximise rubber content in the plant, and completing laboratory testing to develop a guayule tyre-grade polymer specification for future commercialisation.
“This is the first major report-out from the BRDI team on the status of grant milestones,” said Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper’s vice-president of Global Research and Development. “These meetings serve to foster dialogue and strengthen ties between the partners and allow us to continue to scale up our efforts collectively in order to achieve grant targets. We have everything needed to work toward success, including a significant amount of talent, resources and capability from the industry, government, and academia to bring it all together.”
The tyre maker and partners Yulex Corporation, Arizona State University, and the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service received the four-year BRDI grant in June 2012. The grant focuses on research efforts aimed at developing enhanced manufacturing processes for the production of guayule solid rubber as a biomaterial for tyre applications, as well as evaluating the plant’s residual biomass for biofuel applications. The consortium members aim to harness biopolymers extracted from guayule as a replacement for petroleum-based synthetics and tropical-based natural rubber used in the manufacture of tyres.
Cooper Tire is leading the overall grant programme along with developing all related tyre technology. Yulex is taking the lead on developing commercial processes to produce guayule natural rubber for the tyre industry. The Agricultural Research Service is leading the genomic and agronomic development of guayule while Arizona State University is evaluating the sustainability impact these biomaterial and bioenergy industries have on the American Southwest, where guayule is grown.
“Yulex is experiencing a large demand for petroleum-based elastomer replacement products,” said Jeff Martin, chief executive officer, president and co-founder of Yulex Corporation. “More than 50 percent of all the elastomers used in the tyre industry are derived from petroleum. We look forward to changing this trend through continued progress with our partners Cooper, USDA’s ARS and ASU toward developing a US-based tyre made from guayule biorubber.”
Guayule is an industrial crop and a natural source of rubber that can replace petroleum-based synthetics and does not compete against food or fibre crops. Through agronomic development, materials science, and sustainable biorefinery extraction processes, 100 per cent of the guayule plant can be used to produce consumer, industrial, medical and energy products, including tyres and advanced biofuels.