Bridgestone America has broken ground on its Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, Ariz., to investigate the use of the guayule plant as an alternative natural rubber source.
Once completed, the center will be home to a staff of 40 researchers and technicians. The 10-acre site will include an 8,400-square-foot office/lab building, a four-platform, 3,500-square-foot shrub prep building and a 3,100-square-foot mechanical and electrical building. The first rubber samples for tire evaluations are expected in mid-2015.
Guayule (pronounced why-u-lee) is a perennial shrub native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The plant produces natural rubber in its bark and roots. Bridgestone says natural rubber from guayule has almost identical qualities to that harvested from the hevea tree, which currently is the primary source for the natural rubber used in tire production.
Tire makers are stepping up their research into natural rubber alternatives, due to increasingly high prices of it recent years, which has resulted in steep price hikes for all kinds of tires.