Group provides update of guayule-based polymer development
Consortium partners Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Yulex Corp., Arizona State University, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service met recently at the Cooper Tire & Vehicle Test Center near San Antonio, Texas, to review initial progress on their $6.9 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative grant from the USDA and the U.S. DOE. The BRDI is a joint effort between the USDA and the DOE to promote the development and analysis of feed stocks, biofuels and biobased products.
The consortium partners received the four-year BRDI grant in June 2012. The grant focuses on research efforts aimed at developing enhanced manufacturing processes for the production of guayule solid rubber as a biomaterial for tire applications, as well as evaluating the plant’s residual biomass for biofuel applications. The consortium members aim to harness biopolymers extracted from guayule as a replacement for petroleum-based synthetics and tropical-based natural rubber used in the manufacture of tires. If successful, new jobs in the growing and processing of guayule would be created for American workers.
Cooper Tire is leading the overall grant program along with developing all related tire technology. Yulex is taking the lead on developing commercial processes to produce guayule natural rubber for the tire industry. ARS is leading the genomic and agronomic development of guayule while ASU is evaluating the sustainability impact these biomaterial and bioenergy industries have on the American Southwest, where guayule is grown.
The consortium partner meeting highlighted significant progress being made in several areas, including guayule plant genome sequencing needed for future breeding tools, irrigation studies to maximize rubber content in the plant, and completing laboratory testing to develop a guayule tire-grade polymer specification for future commercialization.
Guayule is an industrial crop and a natural source of rubber that can replace petroleum-based synthetics and does not compete against food or fiber crops. Through agronomic development, materials science, and sustainable biorefinery extraction processes, 100 percent of the guayule plant can be used to produce consumer, industrial, medical and energy products, including tires and advanced biofuels.
"This is the first major report-out from the BRDI team on the status of grant milestones,” said Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper’s vice president of global research and development. “These meetings serve to foster dialogue and strengthen ties between the partners and allow us to continue to scale up our efforts collectively in order to achieve grant targets. We have everything needed to work toward success, including a significant amount of talent, resources and capability from the industry, government, and academia to bring it all together.”
“Yulex is experiencing a large demand for petroleum-based elastomer replacement products,” said Jeff Martin, CEO, president and co-founder of Yulex. “More than 50 percent of all the elastomers used in the tire industry are derived from petroleum. We look forward to changing this trend through continued progress with our partners Cooper, USDA’s ARS and ASU toward developing a U.S.-based tire made from guayule biorubber.”