The USDA has awarded Bridgestone $35M to grow its investment in desert shrub guayule to advance a climate-smart domestic rubber industry and offer a water-smart solution amid the ongoing drought in the Southwestern US.
This week, Bridgestone Americas was awarded a $35 million climate-smart grant by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to further cultivate and scale the use of desert shrub guayule as a sustainable way to expand natural rubber production in the US.
Part of the USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative, the $35 million investment in guayule will allow Bridgestone to expand natural rubber production in the Southwestern US with lowered greenhouse gas emissions and water use for growers amid the ongoing regional water crisis — and creating jobs in the region for local farmers and Native American tribes to build a rubber bioeconomy based on climate-smart and sustainable practices.
The viability of guayule as a sustainable, domestically produced alternative to imported tropical rubber — an industry rife with deforestation, carbon emissions and human rights abuses — has also been explored by Ford and fellow tire maker Cooper; as well as companies including Patagonia, for use in wetsuits.
"We have been committed to guayule as a domestic source of natural rubber since our research initiative in this desert shrub began in 2012, to offer a more sustainable solution for both our environment and economy," said William Niaura, Director of Sustainable Materials and Circular Economy at Bridgestone Americas. "By participating in this larger industry-wide initiative led by the USDA, we can continue our commitment to establishing a natural rubber industry domestically in a climate-smart way, alongside other industry leaders who are similarly dedicated to sustainable commodity production that will provide meaningful benefits for domestic growers."
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Bridgestone's 281-acre guayule farm in Eloy, Arizona | Image credit: Bridgestone
The USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities was established to expand markets for climate-smart commodities in the US; scale the climate benefits of more sustainable commodity production; and provide direct, meaningful benefits to farmers — including for small and underserved producers. Bridgestone was among the first pool of recipients of the funding opportunity.
Bridgestone will use the grant funds to attract additional guayule growers in the Southwestern US among local farmers and Native American tribes, to cultivate a domestic natural rubber industry with a climate-appropriate crop. The company will also work to educate growers on implementing climate-smart growing practices of to help enable carbon sequestration in desert soils, water utilization, soil health, and nutrient delivery and ecological benefits of guayule.
The $35 million in grant funds will be disbursed through a five-year period from 2023-2027 and is designed to reduce overall costs for guayule growers. Joining Bridgestone, additional partners in the climate-smart grant include the University of Arizona, Colorado State University, OpenET, Environmental Defense Fund, Tohono O'odham Nation and Colorado River Indian Tribes, and eight regional growers.
Bridgestone launched its guayule research initiative in 2012 when it broke ground on a guayule processing and research center in Mesa, Arizona; the Bridgestone Group produced the first tire made from guayule-derived natural rubber in 2015. Today, the company continues to operate the Mesa facility in addition to a 281-acre guayule farm in Eloy, Arizona. To date, Bridgestone has invested more than $100 million in its efforts to commercialize guayule. Bridgestone is also the recipient of multiple US government research grants for guayule research and development, including a previous award from the USDA in July 2017 and from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (September 2021).
Most recently, Bridgestone announced it is expanding the number of local farmers it partners with in Central Arizona and is targeting 350 new acres of guayule to be planted in 2023. In August 2022, Bridgestone announced its plans to invest an additional $42 million to establish commercial operations, with additional investment and expansion toward 2030. This investment will increase capacity of up to 25,000 additional acres of farmland for planting and harvesting guayule at scale in collaboration with local US farmers and Native American tribes.
Guayule is part of Bridgestone's plan to achieve carbon neutrality and make tires from 100 percent sustainable materials by 2050. The company is targeting commercial production of guayule-derived natural rubber by the end of the decade.
The guayule initiative aligns with the Bridgestone E8 Commitment that consists of 8 Bridgestone-like values starting with the letter "E" (Energy, Ecology, Efficiency, Extension, Economy, Emotion, Ease and Empowerment) to realize a sustainable society. This initiative builds on other recent initiatives — such as Bridgestone’s partnership with LanzaTech to co-develop the first dedicated end-of-life tire-recycling process — that further the company's progress on the "Ecology" and "Energy" pillars.