- Bridgestone Americas will invest an additional $42 million to scale production of a more sustainable rubber alternative by 2030, the company said last month.
- The tire maker said the investment will allow it to add up to 25,000 acres of farmland cultivation of guayule, a type of desert shrub that naturally produces rubber-rich latex.
- Bridgestone hopes to expand the use of guayule in both racing and passenger tires in 2023, Bill Niaura, executive director, sustainable materials and circular economy for Bridgestone Americas, said in an email to Supply Chain Dive. The company said in its release it will work to increase capacity in partnership with local farmers and Native American tribes.
As of now, approximately 90% of natural rubber is sourced from Southeast Asia, where climate change and disease pose a threat to production.
The rubber plant is native to the Brazilian rainforest but is no longer commercially produced in the country due to South American leaf blight, a fungal disease that destroys rubber trees. Experts say that while strict quarantine procedures have contained the disease to South America for now, the likelihood of it spreading to Asia is high.
A common alternative, synthetic rubber is typically made using petroleum byproducts, though the process is energy-intensive, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Resins, which are often used to aid manufacturing of synthetic rubbers, have also been subject to supply shocks during the pandemic.
Guayule has been identified as a more sustainable alternative as it can be farmed using row-crop equipment and requires as little as half the water of crops like cotton and alfalfa, the release said. Bridgestone Americas has been researching use of guayule since 2012, entering into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2013 to field test use of the plant.
“We’re extremely bullish on the potential for guayule as a domestic source of strategically critical material, such as rubber, hypoallergenic latex, building material adhesives and renewable fuel, just to name a few,” Nizar Trigui, chief technology officer and group president, solutions businesses at Bridgestone America, said in a statement.
Currently, Bridgestone operates a research center as well as a 281-acre farm in Eloy, Arizona. It produced its first guayule-derived tire in 2015 and in August debuted race tires with the material.
The shift to guayule-derived rubber is also part of the company’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality and produce 100% renewable tires by 2050. It will help Bridgestone “reduce the environmental impacts that come with overseas sourcing” while developing a more sustainable agricultural system in parts of the country faced with “persistent and worsening climate conditions,” Trigui said.
Bridgestone is not alone in exploring rubber alternatives. Goodyear announced this spring it is developing military aircraft tires using rubber from dandelions.