Bridgestone has announced the start of a research project to developing the Guayule plant as a viable, renewable source of high-quality natural rubber as an alternative to the Hevea tree.
Guayule (pronounced Why-u-lee) is a perennial shrub native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It produces natural rubber in its bark and roots almost identical to natural rubber harvested from Hevea trees, which is currently the primary source for the natural rubber used in tires.
Bridgestone is currently seeking land to establish the pilot farm and construct the rubber process research center in the southwestern United States. Research and development will be conducted by a dedicated research team of agricultural scientists, engineers and process technicians focused on optimizing the agronomic and processing technologies to produce world-class, tire-grade rubber in adequate quantities for manufacturing.
The company expects to finalize a location, establish the research farm and begin construction on the process research center this year. The facility should then be fully operational in 2014, with trial rubber production starting in 2015.
“This 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,” said Bill Niaura from Bridgestone Americas.
The Bridgestone Group is working on knowledge and experience gained through participation in a Guayule research project with the US Department of Agriculture from 1988-91. It focused on extracting rubber from Guayule and the commercial development of the plant will diversify the source of natural rubber to reduce the reliance on “Hevea Brasiliensis,” which has a limited growing area restricted to tropical climates close to the equator. By contrast, Guayule is native to desert climates with a huge potential growing area.