Bridgestone leverages big data to implement optimal plantation for higher yield in Pará rubber tree farms
13 January 2021
Bridgestone Corporation has developed an optimization system for Pará rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) plantations. The system utilizes big data to contribute to higher yield at these rubber farms.
The natural rubber currently used to produce tires is sourced from the Pará rubber tree, which primarily grows in Southeast Asia. Natural rubber is produced by coagulating/drying latex extracted from Pará rubber trees for five to 25 years after their planting.
Issues associated with this tree include risks of disease and the depletion of tropical rainforests attributable to the expansion of the areas of land on which Pará rubber trees are grown.
While Pará rubber trees originated in Brazil, they have suffered devastating damage there by a disease called SALB (South American Leaf Blight) in the early 20th century and they have hardly been planted in Brazil since then. In Southeast Asia, where more than 90% of the world’s Pará rubber tree plantations are concentrated now, the damage caused by the white root rot disease is getting worse. As traditional diagnosis of the disease relies on visual inspection of under-soil roots, there has been a high risk of late detection and false diagnosis, which results in the spread of the disease. Source: Bridgestone
Rubber farms deploy different clones of trees across vast areas and face various management issues, such as how to optimize the number of trees in a planting area and harvest procedures.
The newly developed system seeks an optimal tree planting plan over more than 30 years, which improves and stabilizes the plantation yield. This enhanced system contributes to the sustainable and stable supply of natural rubber.
The Bridgestone Group defines sustainable materials as materials 1) that come from resources with a guaranteed continual supply; 2) that can be used as part of the businesses over the long term; and 3) that have a low environmental and social impact over their lifecycle from procurement to disposal.
Through the academic advice from the Institute of Statistical Mathematics at Research Organization of Information and Systems in Japan, the system employs a mathematical model that incorporates a multitude of factors, including soil health, disease management, and clone potential, among candidates. The final model is specified based on the rubber farm management expertise of Bridgestone.
Utilizing this model in conjunction with yield projections derived from rubber-tree farm data, including time-series yield data and spatial farm data, the system uses a mixed-integer programming approach to derive an optimal solution on which clones of trees should be planted when, where, and in what quantity in order to maintain high natural rubber productivity.
Going forward, Bridgestone will further customize the system before offering it for use at other farms with the aim of contributing to a sustainable and stable global supply of natural rubber.
In 2050, the global population is projected to reach 9.6 billion while the number of automobiles owned will exceed 2.4 billion. Accordingly, the amount of materials needed for tire production is expected to increase.
Meanwhile, there is a push to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts, as indicated in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Bridgestone is working to address such issues by diversifying and expanding its sources of natural rubber.
One such initiative is the research and development pertaining to improving efficiency in the production of Pará rubber tree-derived natural rubber. In addition, the Company is advancing initiatives for supporting sustainable business activities with technologies that contribute to the stable supply of natural rubber.