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Bridgestone Launches Research Project to Develop a Sustainable Source of Natural Rubber

Mar, 08 2012

Innovative Guayule Project Could be a Breakthrough for the Rubber Industry

Bridgestone Corporation (BSJ), today announced the Bridgestone Group’s plans for an extensive research project in the United States dedicated to developing Guayule as a commercially viable, renewable source of high-quality natural rubber and as an alternative to the Hevea tree.

Guayule (pronounced Why-u-lee) is a perennial shrub native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This plant produces natural rubber in its bark and roots. Natural rubber from Guayule has almost identical qualities compared to natural rubber harvested from Hevea trees, which is currently the primary source for the natural rubber used in tires.

This project is being done by Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations (BATO) in collaboration with BSJ. BSJ is providing the funding and strategic input for the effort, while BATO will be responsible for finding the suitable location and operating the pilot farm and process research facility. BATO will also leverage the resources of the Bridgestone Americas Center for Research and Technology and its Akron Technical Center to provide technical and research expertise.

BATO is currently seeking land to establish the pilot farm and construct the rubber process research center in the southwestern United States. Research and development will be conducted by a dedicated research team of agricultural scientists, engineers and process technicians focused on optimizing the agronomic and processing technologies necessary to produce world-class, tire-grade rubber in adequate quantities appropriate for manufacturing.

The company expects to finalize a location, establish the research farm and begin construction on the process research center later in 2012. The facility is expected to be fully operational in 2014. Trial rubber production should start in 2015.

“This is such an exciting and innovative project. It will not only help our companies meet the strong, anticipated growth in demand for natural rubber, but also constitutes a potential breakthrough for the rubber industry,” said Bill Niaura, Director of New Business Development for Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSAM). “This project demonstrates our commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability through its potential to develop a renewable resource for natural rubber that can be grown, harvested and processed closer to market.”

With the demand for tires expected to increase in the near and long term, the Bridgestone Group embraces its responsibility to develop technologies and business practices that encourage conservation of finite natural resources. Through efforts such as the Guayule research project, the Bridgestone Group is working to develop technologies and processes that
reduce, reuse and recycle raw materials. The Group is also working to develop tires using 100% sustainable materials (renewable and recyclable resources). The Bridgestone Group is involved in other efforts to research and develop concept tires made from sustainable materials and expects to share additional information about those projects in the near future.

The Bridgestone Group will leverage the knowledge and experience it gained through its participation in a Guayule research project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1988 to 1991, which focused on extracting rubber for tires from the biomass of Guayule, in this new project. The successful commercial development of Guayule will diversify the source of natural rubber for the tire and rubber industry and reduce today’s heavy reliance on “Hevea Brasiliensis,” which has a limited growing area restricted to tropical climates close to the equator. By contrast, Guayule is native to desert climates with a huge potential growing area.