PEARSALL, Texas — Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. researchers have determined that guayule rubber is a viable substitute for natural and synthetic rubber in building tires and could start using it immediately if sufficient material was available at a reasonable price.
Cooper is basing its conclusions on research it conducted over the past five years under the auspices of a $6.9 million Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant that included consortium partners, including Clemson University, Cornell University, PanAridus and the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS).
Guayule, a shrub grown primarily in the southwestern U.S., contains latex that can be processed into rubber for use in tires.
"Based on our findings, Cooper could use guayule rubber in tire production tomorrow if enough material was available to meet our production needs at a competitive price," Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper's senior vice president of global research and development said.
"To make this happen, the combined effort of government, agriculture and industry is needed to grow the plants and create large-scale manufacturing operations to produce the rubber for use in the tire industry," he added.
As part of the project, Cooper built more than 450 trial tires, replacing various tire components made with Hevea and synthetic rubber with those made with guayule and testing each for overall performance, Mr. Yurkovich said.
"With knowledge gathered from these builds, we created the industry's first all-guayule concept tires and with them conducted rigorous lab and road tests that provide verifiable performance results."
These tires were found to have overall performance at least equal to tires made with Hevea and synthetic rubber, Cooper said. Notably, the tires performed significantly better in rolling resistance, wet handling and wet braking than their conventional counterparts, the tire maker said.
Cooper recently presented a report on the grant — "Securing the Future of Natural Rubber: an American Tire and Bioenergy Platform from Guayule" — during a wrap-up meeting of the public-private sector at its Tire & Vehicle Test Center near Pearsall, Texas, where consortium members participated in a ride and drive on the guayule concept tires.