A recent article in the New York Times reports that Cooper Tire is close to developing a tire made from rubber derived from the guayule plant, a desert shrub grown in the Southwest. This is an important development as traditional rubber sources have become more costly and may not be adequate for future demand. According to the article:
“Tire executives say that global demand for tires, which use as much as 70 percent of the world’s rubber supply, will expand as less developed nations industrialize, requiring roughly 21 million additional acres of hevea, the source of natural rubber, by 2024.”
Petroleum has been used to make a synthetic form of rubber since World War II, when the US was cut off from natural rubber sources. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, about 70% of all rubber used in manufacturing is synthetic, and around seven gallons of petroleum are needed to produce one tire.
Both economically and environmentally, another natural rubber source would be a highly beneficial discovery. Guayule is much easier to grow than the rubber trees from which hevea is derived.
Rubber trees require a hot, damp climate, and grow only in Southeast Asia and Africa. Guayale does lack some of the attributes that hevea offers, such as resistance to cracking and the ability to prevent high heat buildup, which has presented a challenge developers are working to solve.
Cooper expects to make a make a complete tire from guayule-derived parts by early 2017. Along with Copper, many other researchers are working on the development of guayule as a practical rubber source for other industries.