USDA awards Cooper Tire & Rubber and partners $6.9M for research on guayule as source for tire rubber and biofuel
12 July 2012
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded Cooper Tire & Rubber and its consortium partners a 4-year, $6.9-million grant to support research efforts to develop enhanced manufacturing processes, testing and utilizing of guayule natural rubber as a strategic source of raw material in tires, and evaluating the remaining biomass of the guayule plant as a source of biofuel for the transportation industry.
Cooper Tire will lead a consortium of companies, universities and the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the USDA to develop guayule technology for future commercialization opportunities in the tire industry. Yulex Corporation—a leader in guayule crop science and renewable products made from guayule—will be the manufacturer of the material.
Guayule is a perennial shrub native to the southwestern US and northern Mexico, and produces natural rubber in its bark and roots. Natural rubber from Guayule has almost identical qualities compared to natural rubber harvested from Hevea trees—currently the primary source for the natural rubber used in tires.
Interest in guayule as a source for tire rubber reaches back more than a century. A paper on guayule rubber in tires and tubes, written by J.H. Doering at Firestone Tire and Rubber, was published in the ACS journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry in 1934. In 1977, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that the US initiate an R&D program to commercialize guayule rubber. Some of the challenges have been to increase rubber yield or to develop high-value co-products to make guayule economically competitive.
Other important components of the Cooper-led work include collaborative projects to advance agronomic practices, development of genetic and genomic information, and a life cycle analysis, which will document the impact a bio-material and bio-energy industry will have on the American Southwest.
The grant was a result of a recent joint announcement by the USDA and the US Department of Energy (DOE) for $30 million in funding for research and development of technologies and processes for alternative renewable fuels and bio-based products.
The advanced bio-fuels produced from these projects are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 50% compared to fossil fuels. Each proposed project must integrate science and engineering research in three technical areas: feedstock development, bio-fuel and bio-based products development, and bio-fuels development analysis.
Other current efforts. In March, Bridgestone Corporation (BSJ) announced 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. (Earlier post.)
More immediately, Netherlands-based Apollo Vredestein, part of Apollo Tyres Ltd. from India, announced that it had manufactured tires with European natural rubber from both the Russian dandelion and from guayule.
Apollo Vredestein is a partner in the EU-PEARLS project, the objective of which is to find a European alternative to natural rubber from the rubber tree.
Apollo Vredestein is processing the natural rubber from both these alternatives is being processed in various types of the Quatrac Lite tire, size 155/65 R14. Although first impressions look very promising, the tires with the alternative natural rubbers will first undergo extensive testing over the coming months before being taken into production.
The EU-PEARLS project (212827) is financed by the European Commission FP7 KBBE Program. The research results will be presented on 24–25 September 2012 during the closing conference in Wageningen, The Netherlands.
J. H. Doering (1934) Guayule Rubber in Tires and Tubes - Service Tests in Which Rubber Was Exclusively Guayule. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry26 (5), 541-543
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