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Cooper Is Closer to Developing a New Source of Rubber

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Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.’s scientists report promising results in their tests of tires built with guayule, marking a milestone in the company’s goal of producing, by mid-2017, a concept tire in which all of the natural and synthetic rubber is replaced by guayule-based polymers. 

Guayule is a shrub that is grown primarily in the southwestern United States and contains rubber that can be processed for use in tires.

Cooper says it has built a number of tires replacing both hevea natural rubber tapped from rubber trees and synthetic rubber with guayule in various components and tested each build for overall performance.

“We have nearly finished our work on developing guayule-based tire components and have tested these tires to assure a full performance evaluation,” says Chuck Yurkovich, Cooper’s senior vice president of global research and development.

“The results are highly promising. We have proven that we can replace traditional polymers with guayule in certain components, and that tires made from these components perform equal to conventional tires. We are optimizing the use of guayule formulations to develop not only a full guayule tire, but we will also evaluate guayule blends in certain components where an advantage has been shown to exist,” Yurkovich says.

Cooper is working to develop an alternative source of rubber with the help of the Agricultural Research Service of the United States Department of Agriculture, Clemson University, and a scientific company called PanAridus. The project is funded by a Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant.

The Department of Agriculture is researching optimum guayule farming techniques and sequencing the guayule genome. Clemson University is studying the environmental impacts of the entire tire life cycle using guayule versus traditional hevea rubber in tire production. PanAridus is supplying rubber for the project. PanAridus and Cooper have developed a proprietary solvent-based process to extract rubber from guayule plants.

Mike Fraley, CEO of PanAridus, said, “It has been our mission at PanAridus to commercialize guayule from the farm gate to market development of raw materials produced from the plant. Hevea is currently the only commercial source of natural rubber available. The tire industry needs another source and the United States needs an economic, sustainable and stable alternative. it is unprecedented to see that guayule has been demonstrated to meet requirements for the very vibrant tire industry.”

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