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A Bouncy Bioenergy Feedstock

On July 25, the USDA and U.S. DOE announced over $41 million more in joint funding to continue to get the U.S.’s butt in gear in regard to bioenergy and biofuels.
By Anna Simet | July 26, 2012

On July 25, the USDA and U.S. DOE announced over $41 million more in joint funding to continue to get the U.S.’s butt in gear in regard to bioenergy and biofuels, right on the heels of a massive biofuels funding announcement they made with the Navy in early July.

For the most recent funding, there are a total of 13 projects, five of which are actual on-the-ground, active projects. One that gauged my interest in particular was in Findlay, Ohio, where Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. will use $6.85 million to optimize the production of guayule.

Guayule? Not going to lie, I hadn’t an idea of what that was. For those of you in my boat, it’s a flowering shrub—hardwood perennial—that grows in arid and semi-arid regions such as the southwestern U.S., and some Mexican states. And, it naturally produces rubber that can be used as an alternative source of latex.

Researching the history of the plant, in a nutshell, it seems interest has come and gone over the years in strong, short waves. There was some intense but brief research done on it in the 1920s when leaf blight destroyed the Brazilian rubber industry’s crop, and it was looked at again during World War II when Japan cut off U.S. Malaysian latex resources, but the war ended before large-scale farming of the crop began.

What Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. plans to do with the plant is extract the rubber for tires, and the remaining residue will be evaluated for biopower applications, and for conversion to jet fuel precursors.

Something interesting about the guayule is that because it produces terpene resins, or natural pesticides, it is resistant to many pests and diseases. I’m sure that’s something any farmer would like to hear about a potential crop.

There is a tricky aspect to guayule, however, as it is asexual and requires propagation—cutting and replanting—for reproduction.

That is for now, anyway. Funding like what was just given to the five active projects by the DOE and USDA—and especially the eight research projects—aim to help solve these kinds of problems with potential bioenergy crops.