A little-known perennial shrub called guayule (pronounced why-u-lee), native to the Southwestern United States, has been tapped as a potential alternative natural source for rubber by Bridgestone Americas and agricultural-based biomaterials company, Yulex.
Bridgestone announced its interest in guayule over a year ago and now the company is breaking ground on a new Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, Arizona. The company says it hopes to have guayule rubber samples for tire evaluations by 2015.
Yulex is taking a different approach. The company has announced a $3 million award to the University of Arizona through a five-year grant focusing on breeding and agronomic development of guayule. Together, they will be applying classical breeding along with modern tools for research-assisted breeding as part of a crop improvement program.
The expectations for guayule are high. In addition to not competing with food or fiber crops, the plant requires relatively little water and no pesticides. It could prove to be a renewable source of natural rubber latex that could replace petroleum-based synthetics and lessen reliance on imported tropical rubber.
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This is the latest example of how the tire and automotive industry continues to find new and innovative ways to accomplish its goals. In February, Goodyear announced that making tires from soybean oil could increase tread life and replace seven million gallons of petroleum-based oil each year.