Guayule tyre performance at least equal to conventional tyres, says Cooper

Cooper Tire & Rubber is now evaluating the first tyres it has built using rubber derived from guayule plants, and says that to-date the wheel, road and track tests suggest tyre performance that is at least equal to tyres manufactured using traditional Hevea-sourced rubber. The tyre maker reported this development to its consortium partners – PanAridus, Arizona State University, Cornell University, and the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS) – at the group’s recent meeting for its third annual meeting and progress report on their US$6.9 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant, ‘Securing the Future of Natural Rubber—An American Tire and Bioenergy Platform from Guayule.’

The consortium received the BRDI grant in 2012 from the USDA and the US Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct research aimed at developing enhanced manufacturing processes for the production of solid rubber from the guayule plant as a biomaterial for tyre applications, as well as evaluating the plant’s residual biomass for fuel applications. The consortium aims to harness biopolymers extracted from guayule as a replacement for synthetic rubbers and Hevea natural rubber used in the production of tyres. It is also focused on genomic and agronomic development of guayule and the sustainability impact these biomaterial and bioenergy industries have on the American Southwest, where guayule is grown. The grant period ends late in the second quarter of 2017.

Cooper’s progress in tyre technology under the grant has been aided by PanAridus’ success in manufacturing rubber using improved strains of guayule and deploying superior rubber extraction technology. Cooper, PanAridus and USDAARS have worked closely to identify key variables impacting rubber quality and controlling these factors during the rubber manufacturing process, resulting in compounds with properties that behave more like Hevea natural rubber than guayule isolated from other processes.

In addition to the advances in rubber manufacturing and tyre technology, consortium members USDA-ARS and Cornell also reported significant progress in defining the guayule genome. Scientists may eventually be able to identify genes that can be tuned to improve qualities such as rubber yield, plant size, drought tolerance and other positive characteristics. Related advances have also been made in agronomics by consortium member USDA-ARS, including irrigation and direct seeding. These studies will help determine optimum conditions under which farmers can grow guayule crops to produce quantities sufficient for commercial use. ASU is evaluating the social, economic and environmental impact of the grant activities on all stakeholders with a focus on sustainable business practices.

“As the lead company in the consortium, we are extremely pleased with the progress that the group has made to advance guayule technology on all fronts,” said Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper’s senior vice-president, global research and development. “The team is making rapid progress toward a commercial source of domestic natural rubber, and ultimately, tyres made with guayule rubber.”

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