Making Tires From a Desert Shrub Found in the U.S.
by Diane Cardwell (New York Times) For years, tire industry executives, as well as government officials and scientists, have sought a domestic source for natural rubber to escape the price fluctuations of imports and, more recently, to avoid petroleum, which is used to make synthetic rubber.
Now, Cooper Tire and Rubber Company has reached an important milestone in that effort, and is expected to demonstrate tires this week with components made of rubber from the guayule plant, a desert shrub cultivated in the Southwest.
Cooper Tire executives, who are leading a consortium to develop and market the substance, say they expect to make a complete tire from guayule-derived parts by early 2017. The group includes PanAridus, which is growing the plants and manufacturing the rubber, as well as Cornell and Clemson Universities.
“In two years,” said Mike Fraley, chief executive of PanAridus, “we’ve traveled from test tubes to tires.”
The effort is one of several underway as companies work to develop a domestic guayule industry.
Bridgestone opened a bio-rubber research and manufacturing center last year and Ford has a partnership with Ohio State University to help use the substance in automotive applications.
Another start-up, Yulex, is also growing guayule and making rubber for a variety of products, including a special line of wet suits at Patagonia. Yulex had previously worked with Cooper Tire on the development of the guayule plant-based polymers before being replaced by PanAridus.The Cooper Tire program is part of a $6.9 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative grant under a joint effort by the United States Agriculture and Energy Departments to spur the development and analysis of feed stocks, biofuels and bio-based products.
In addition to producing a latex that can be processed into rubber, the guayule plant produces resin that can become adhesives, flavors, fragrances, and biofuel, and fibrous matter that can become biofuel or construction materials. READ MORE