Tire company completes guayule-to-rubber research farm

By Chris Hanson | October 17, 2013

Bridgestone Americas Inc. announced the completion of the Agro Operations Guayule Research Farm in Eloy, Ariz.

The 281-acre farm, which features two greenhouses, equipment storage facilities and a research building, aims to supply guayule, a type of flowering shrub found in southwestern U.S. and Mexico, to Bridgestone’s BioRubber Process Research Center, which is being constructed in Mesa, Ariz.

“The chemical structure of the rubber is exactly the same as what we currently utilized that is sourced from the hevea rubber tree,” said Bill Niaura, director of new business development at Bridgestone Americas. He added the guayule has minor, molecular differences but the key chemical structure is identical to that of the hevea tree. “Which is fortunate for us, in the sense that this should be essentially a drop-in replacement and interchangeable with the current rubber supply,” he said.

By using guayule for rubber production, Bridgestone is able to source vital, raw materials from a different geographic source. The rubber industry sources 93 percent of the natural rubber supply from Southeast Asia, Indonesia and Thailand in very concentrated, economically developing areas, Niaura explained. “Developing a second source that is geographically separate is highly desirable from a business perspective,” he said. “The fact that it is domestic to North America, where we have a large basis for tire production, is another factor that makes it more desirable.”

The farm’s employees recently completed fall 2013 planting, and will provide the first biomass crop to the BioRubber Process Research Center for tire evaluation in mid-2015. Growing the crop is one of the biggest challenges Bridgestone will address during the development. “This is a new crop,” he says. “Genetically, it’s relatively a wild species. It doesn’t have decades of breeding and development work like other industrial crops like cotton might have.” He added the researchers will work to develop agronomic programs for best growing practices to create a consistent crop. 

The research farm and process center are part of Bridgestone’s “One Team, One Planet” sustainability initiative to reduce carbon dioxide from raw material procurement, manufacturing and logistics by 35 percent per sales.