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Bridgestone, Yulex Launch Separate Biorubber Projects

Bridgestone Americas and agricultural-based biomaterials company Yulex have both announced projects to investigate the use of the shrub guayule as an alternative natural rubber source.

Bridgestone will hold a groundbreaking ceremony next week for its Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, Ariz., which aims to develop a sustainable source of rubber.

The center (pictured in a rendering above) will be located on a 10-acre site and include an 8,400-square-foot office and lab, a four-platform 3,500-square-foot shrub prep building and a 3,100-square-foot mechanical and electrical building. About 40 researchers and technicians will work at the site.

Bridgestone, which announced plans to study guayule more than a year ago, said the first rubber samples for tire evaluations are expected in mid-2015.

Meanwhile, Yulex has announced it will award the University of Arizona a $3 million, five-year grant focused on the breeding and agronomic development of guayule for the production of biorubber used in medical, consumers and industrial products.

Guayule, a perennial shrub native to the southwestern US that doesn’t compete with food or fiber crops, is a renewable source of natural rubber latex that can replace petroleum-based synthetics, lessen reliance on imported tropical rubber, and requires relatively little water with no pesticides, Yulex says.

The plant, pronounced “why-u-lee,” produces natural rubber in its bark and roots. Guayule has almost identical qualities to what is harvested from the hevea tree, which currently is the primary source for natural rubber used in tire production, according to Bridgestone.

Yulex and the University of Arizona will apply classical breeding along with modern tools for marker-assisted breeding to Guayule lines to select traits for the crop improvement program, the company says.

Last year, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company researchers said using soybean oil in tires could potentially increase tread life by 10 percent and reduce the tiremaker’s use of petroleum-based oil by up to 7 million gallons each year. Testing at Goodyear’s tire plant in Lawton, Oklahoma showed improved mixing capabilities in the manufacturing process.

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