Bridgestone Tire Gets Rubber from Desert Guayule Plant Which Doesn’t Require Irrigation
Bridgestone has invested $100 million into farming a desert-dwelling herb to replace the rubber tree for rubber production.
Guayule (Why-OO-lee) produces rubber as a form of protection, and owing to its Chihuahuan Desert heritage, doesn’t need any irrigation.
Guayule comes from the Asteraceae family, which includes species like chamomile, daisy, asters, marigold, and chicory. It was used by the Mesoamerican civilizations as a kind of rubber, which is the same reason that Tempe Farming, which usually grows cotton or alfalfa, is covering 25,000 acres of its farmland with this plant.
Haveas, the tropical rubber tree, is expensive, climate intensive, and risky to farm. They are vulnerable to pests and disease, and labor intensive to cultivate and harvest.
Most passenger cars for this reason use 90% synthetic material for tires, and only 10% natural rubber. However there are still some products made entirely of natural rubber—large truck tires for example.
Bridgestone R&D have spent years breeding a lineage of Guayule that produces exceptional amounts of its rubber, and it wants to scale up production as fast as possible, not only for economic and climate reasons, but because Guayule rubber tires perform better than haveas rubber.
In a recent test, Bridgestone rolled out a racing tire with a sidewall of Guayule rubber for an Indycar race.
“We use racing as a testbed,” Nizar Trigui, chief technology officer at Bridgestone Americas, told Fast Company. “In a very demanding application, like open wheel racing in IndyCar, we have shown that it actually gives us similar or better performance.”
“The introduction of guayule natural rubber to America’s preeminent open-wheel racing series speaks to the confidence we have in the technology and its potential as a scalable, sustainable and domestic source of natural rubber—a vital raw material.”
To date, Bridgestone has invested over $100 million into Guayule cultivation, and the recent $42 million will go to building a biorefinery to process the plants and turn them into rubber for the company’s tires.
Rubber trees are not grown here at home, but as long as there are plants growing in Arizona, the effects of recurring droughts being experienced across the American West could be dampened if more desert-dwelling species that don’t need to be irrigated could be utilized. In this regard Guayule will free up the irrigation resources for 25,000 acres, offering water sources a welcome relief.