Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s scientists have completed a five-year $6.9 million federal grant to produce and road test concept passenger tires made with guayule plant-based polymers.
The company says it met all goals outlined in the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant, “Securing the Future of Natural Rubber-an American Tire and Bioenergy Platform from Guayule.”
Cooper was the lead entity in a consortium that included Clemson University, Cornell University, PanAridus LLC and the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA-ARS).
A report on the grant was recently presented at the public-private sector consortium’s wrap-up meeting held at the Cooper Tire & Vehicle Test Center near San Antonio.
Cooper says its scientists produced several sets of concept passenger tires in which all the natural and synthetic rubber is replaced by guayule natural rubber. Guayule, a shrub grown primarily in the southwestern United States, contains rubber that can be process for use in tires. The grant team studied the feasibility of using guayule in tires versus Hevea natural rubber, which is used by the industry today and is sourced primarily from Southeast Asia.
Cooper says the 100%-guayule-based concept tires underwent extensive evaluation by Cooper’s technical team, including rigorous wheel and road tests, and were found to have overall performance at least equal to tires made with Hevea and synthetic rubber. Notably, the tires performed significantly better in rolling resistance, wet handling and wet braking than their conventional counterparts. Following the meeting, consortium members participated in the industry’s first ride and drive on the 100% guayule concept tires at the Cooper facility.
“Cooper built more than 450 tires, replacing various tire components made with Hevea and synthetic rubber with those made with guayule and testing each for overall performance,” says Chuck Yurkovich, senior vice president of global research and development for Cooper.
“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. 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.”
Yurkovich says the results of the grant have been groundbreaking. “Never before has it been proven that guayule is a viable source of domestically produced natural rubber for the tire industry. However, through the combined effort of industry, government and academia, the BRDI team has unequivocally demonstrated just that.”