Bridgestone Americas Inc. has a very active sustainability programme that includes research in both guayule and rubber dandelions.
One of the high points of Bridgestone's programme is the Bridgestone Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, Arizona, and the nearby agro operation guayule research farm in Eloy, Arizona The tire maker unveiled prototype tires in October 2015 in which guayule rubber completely replaced Hevea, and said it is on track to make guayule available commercially by the early 2020s.
“Appreciating that the production of natural rubber is a very complex and fragmented system, Bridgestone takes a broad view of sustainable natural rubber, which includes not only deforestation, but also labour rights, land use, water use and quality, and many other critical elements,” the company said in a statement.
“Bridgestone recognises the industry's responsibility to develop technologies and business practices that encourage conservation of earth's finite natural resources,” it said.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. did not issue a statement, but pointed to the document on its website describing its corporate social responsibility and sustainability mission.
One of Cooper's chief efforts in this mission is its leadership in the Biomass Research and Development Initiative, in which its partners are PanAridus, Clemson University, Cornell University and the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Using guayule rubber provided by Pan-Aridus, Cooper made its first tires with guayule rubber components in 2014, and the following year hosted the tire industry's first ride-and-drive event on guayule tires.
Researching rubber dandelion
Meanwhile, Continental AG has put itself in the forefront of research into Taraxacum kok-saghyz, also known as the rubber dandelion. (The plant has commonly been called the Russian dandelion, but Ohio State's Cornish discourages that. “It's not really Russian,” she said.)
Continental recently announced it is earmarking $39 million to build a dedicated dandelion research facility in Anklam, Germany. The tire maker is developing dandelion rubber under the trade name “Taraxagum” and plans to introduce commercial dandelion rubber products in the next five to 10 years.
The biggest challenge to Conti's dandelion rubber commercialisation plans is ensuring supply, according to Peter Zmolek, director of body compound and reinforcement development for Conti.
“It depends on the number of tires we decide to build, but we will not be limited by the number of tires once we have sufficient rubber we can harvest,” he said.