PEARSALL, TexasCooper Tire & Rubber Co. and PanAridus L.L.C. are touting the value of natural rubber (NR) derived from the desert shrub guayule as a component in tires after what they called a recent successful ride-and-drive demonstration in Texas.
The test went well enough to prompt Cooper to set a goal of building tires that are 100-percent guayule rubber in all components by the first half of 2017. PanAridus is a guayule commercialization company.
The event took place Aug. 18-19 at Cooper's Vehicle Test Center in Pearsall, according to Cooper, as part of the annual meeting of the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI)from which Cooper received a $6.9 million research and development grant in 2012.
For the first time, the tire maker said, experimental tires with multiple components containing 100-percent guayule rubber from PanAridus were run in a blind test against conventional Cooper mass-production tires.
The testers had the opportunity to experience these tires against standard tires, a Cooper spokeswoman told Tire Business.
The result was performance that was comparableno difference in performance, she added.
This is a major victory for BRDI, whose goal is to develop guayule as a domestic source of NR for the tire industry, she said.
The tires tested at Pearsall represent the third build of prototype tires that have contained guayule rubber, according to Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper senior vice president of global research and development.
The tires in this third batch contained 100-percent guayule in their sidewalls, treads and inner liners, Mr. Yurkovich told Tire Business.
By the time we complete the grant [in 2017], we will determine the percentage of guayule rubber that can be used in tires.
Part of that determination, according to Mr. Yurkovich, will be whether, and how soon, guayule rubber is available in amounts that can meet commercial demand. PanAridus, an agribusiness development firm specializing in guayule, is directing all its energies to ensure that it will grow and process commercial amounts of guayule in the fastest possible time, the company's CEO, Michael Fraley, said.
We want to produce guayule in quantities that meet demand both domestically and globally, Mr. Fraley said. In order to achieve this, we start with the seed.
PanAridus has enough high-quality guayule seed to plant 100,000 acres, according to Mr. Fraley, which is enough to supply 14 to 16 percent of U.S. natural rubber demand.
The firm, which operates an agricultural operations center in Casa Grande, Ariz., also has a patent pending for direct seeding of guayule in the field, which Messrs. Fraley and Yurkovich agreed is crucial to commercial production of guayule.
Besides guayule, Cooper is evaluating other potential domestic sources of NR, Mr. Yurkovich said. Cooper is deeply involved with the Program for Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives (PENRA), a program within the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at the Ohio State University-Wooster Campus to develop Taraxacum kok-saghyzalso known as the Russian dandelion or Buckeye Goldas an NR source.
There are quite a few plants that can produce natural rubber, Mr. Yurkovich said. It would be a benefit for Cooper to have multiple sources of natural rubber.
For its part, PanAridus is in discussions with Ford Motor Co. about making prototype vehicle parts with guayule rubber, according to Mr. Fraley. Also, PanAridus is investigating the value of guayule bagasse (stems and bark) and resins in fiberboard manufacturing, energy production and other areas.
The market potential of guayule is very exciting, Mr. Fraley said. It's also very exciting to see what guayule can do for everyone on planet Earth.