In May 2013, Bridgestone Tires Corporation announced that it will soon start construction on its guayule rubber research center in Mesa, Arizona. Guayule is a scrubby desert plant that grows in the United States and northern Mexico and produces natural rubber.
Bridgestone representatives emphasize that there is a long road of research and development before guayule rubber might turn out automobile tires. That said, the company is investing tens of millions of dollars into the research.
Bridgestone isn’t the only one involved in guayule rubber development.
In March, 2013, Pirelli Tyre announced a joint research project with a synthetic polymer producer, Versalis, to test the veracity of natural guayule in tire production.
American based Cooper Tire is also working with a guayule research group. The Cooper project is financed with a $6.9 million USDA grant.
Apollo-Vredestein are testing tires made with both guayule rubber and another form of natural rubber. The other natural rubber is extracted from a Russian dandelion!
Recently, guayule products have made it to the market, although not tires. You can now buy guayule wetsuits, mattresses, and other goods.
What is So Important About Guayule Rubber?
Rubber is one of the crucial commodities that the world needs for transportation and machinery.
At this time, 97% of it comes from rubber trees in equatorial countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. As rubber increases in demand and cost, new sources become more attractive.
The benefits of producing guayule rubber are clear:
- Sustainable usage of desert areas.
- Environmental and cost benefits from the reduction of shipping distances.
- Domestic control of a tactical commodity.
The History of Guayule Rubber
The earliest reports of guayule rubber came from Spanish explorers who described the indigenous people in North America using guayule rubber balls as toys.
In the late 1920s, Thomas Edison called guayule rubber development of utmost tactical importance for the United States to avoid dependence on faraway countries for rubber.
In 1936, the Edison Botanic Research Corporation, together with The Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, published test results of a small tire and inner tube made with guayule rubber.
Those tires were mounted on a Model A Ford. Unfortunately, the experimental tires were not quite as dependable as they looked. The rubber was too soft and the tires consistently gave out and blew apart after about 8500 miles.
Guayule research teetered out towards the end of World War II, a functional and dependable guayule tire never reached market.
However, as rubber prices increase worldwide, and technical research and analytical abilities expand exponentially, a reliable guayule automobile tire might be finally around the corner.