ERJ staff report (PR)
Manchester, UK – Around 1 billion tires are produced every year around the world, but this number will need to double to meet the expected rise in demand over the next three decades, according to Keizo Akutagawa, general manager of materials development at Bridgestone Corp.
However, the ability of tire manufacturers to meet this level of growth in demand could be held back by a lack of natural rubber, Akutagawa warned in a keynote speech at the opening of the IRC RubberCon 2014 conference, held 14-15 May in Manchester.
Pressures on supply, he added, would drive up prices for natural rubber and other raw materials, while tire makers would also face environmental issues when seeking to expand their manufacturing and supply-chain operations.
“Since 2000, prices for natural rubber and oil have increased very rapidly due to growth in the Chinese economy, said the Bridgestone expert. “In future, we can expect to see this trend continue as the number of vehicles produced worldwide increases."
As well developing promising new raw materials – particularly guayule and dandelion rubber – Bridgestone’s response to these challenges includes on-going efforts to protect of Hevea rubber tree plantations from the threat of white root disease.
“This is a serious problem for the natural rubber industry, especially in south east Asia,” Akutagawa explained. “It is caused by Rigidoporus microporus, which destroys roots and there is no effective treatment. So we need to develop new technology to find the disease in the early stages."
Towards this goal, Bridgestone is working with government agencies in its home country and in Indonesia to explore the effectiveness of satellite imaging to check the condition of Hevea tree over large areas of plantation. Other approaches, said Akutagawa, include the use of optical spectrometers and IR cameras to detect variations in the leaf colour of natural rubber trees, protein analysis of latex and fungal DNA analysis of soil.
“All tire manufacture relies on Hevea rubber and in future we will need much more of [these trees],” continued the tire materials specialist, noting that Bridgestone is also involved in programmes to increase the productivity of Hevea plantations.