New Rubber Could Revolutionise the Tyre Industry
The tyre industry is heavily reliant on latex harvested from Hevea brasiliensis trees in Indonesia and Thailand. But with more than 250 million cars on the roads in the US alone and numbers set to increase, demand for rubber could exceed current production capabilities in these regions.
Ohio-based rubber and tyre manufacturer Cooper recently concluded a five-year research project into alternative sources of rubber for the industry. A grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for $6.9m was given to test the viability of guayule, a hardy shrub, as an alternative plant source. At the end of the research period, a team including members from Clemson University, Cornell University, PanAridus and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service demonstrated that guayule performs as well as hevea rubber in terms of wear and cold weather resistance – and outperforms hevea when it comes to fuel economy and wet stopping distances.
Guayule can be grown processed and manufactured in the US and Mexico, it can be harvested every two years, and the entire plant is used. Latex is extracted for the rubber and byproducts include resin, which has promise for use in adhesives and fibres that could be used in particle board.
Californian company Yulex currently produces an alternative to neoprene from the guayule plant which is used by Patagonia in wetsuits. Yulex are now researching the Russian dandelion as a new source for natural rubber.
For more on recent colour, material and finish trends in automotive design, see CMF Industry View: Automotive Update.