Bridgestone begins producing natural rubber

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Bridgestone Americas Inc. (BSA) has opened its Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, Ariz. The 10-acre research and innovation campus is the center of Bridgestone’s efforts to extract natural rubber from guayule, a shrub native to the southwestern U.S.

Bridgestone says the facility is a step toward its long-term environmental goal of developing a new, domestic and commercially-viable source for natural rubber.

At a ribbon-cutting celebration on Sept. 23, Bridgestone says it expects to have preliminary guayule rubber samples produced at the Biorubber Process Research Center within the next month.

Guayule rubber has qualities almost identical to those of natural rubber harvested from hevea rubber trees, making it a potentially valuable source for tire-grade rubber in commercial applications. Currently, more than 90% of the world’s natural rubber supply comes from hevea rubber trees grown in southeast Asia.

“The opening of the Bridgestone Biorubber Process Research Center is a significant milestone in Bridgestone’s journey to develop a new and domestic source of natural rubber,” says Bill Niaura, director of new business development.

“Through this innovation project and others like it, Bridgestone is positioning itself to meet the constant, anticipated growth in demand for natural rubber, while also moving closer to achieving its long-term vision of manufacturing products from raw materials that are fully renewable and sustainable by 2050.”

Home to more than 30 researchers and technicians, the Biorubber Process Research Center site includes an 8,300-square-foot single-story office and laboratory building; a four-platform, 3,500-square-foot shrub prep building; a 5,500-square-foot, two-level process building for rubber extraction, co-product and solvent recycling; and a 3,100-square-foot mechanical and electrical building.

Bridgestone will supply the Biorubber Process Research Center with biomass for rubber production from guayule grown on its 281-acre Agro Operations Research Farm in nearby Eloy, Ariz. The Agro Operations site includes two greenhouses, an equipment storage building and a main research and laboratory building. Bridgestone employs a team of scientists at the farm who research the genetic improvement of guayule, optimizing agronomic practices for growing the crop and supplying biomass for the Biorubber Process Research Center.

Guayule rubber produced at the Biorubber Process Research Center will be sent to Bridgestone’s technical centers in both Akron, Ohio, and Tokyo, Japan. At those facilities, engineers will work to optimize rubber performance within Bridgestone’s product line and explore the full potential for next-generation tires.

The company says the project is executed by Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations LLC, a BSA subsidiary, in collaboration with Bridgestone Corp., which is providing the funding and strategic insights for the project. The Bridgestone Americas team is responsible for operating the pilot farm and process research facility.

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