COOPER COMPLETES GUAYULE RESEARCH GRANT

Project yields concept tires in which all natural and synthetic rubber is replaced with guayule From 2012 through mid-2017, Cooper served as the lead entity in the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) working under a five year, $6.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct research on developing the guayule (pronounced Why-YOU-lee) plant as an alternative natural rubber source for the tire industry. Other BRDI partners included Clemson University, the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Cornell University and PanAridus.

The purpose of the grant was to conduct research to develop enhanced manufacturing processes for the production of solid rubber from the guayule plant as a biomaterial for tire applications, as well as evaluating the plant’s residual biomass for fuel applications. The consortium aimed to harness biopolymers extracted from guayule as a replacement for synthetic rubbers and Hevea natural rubber used in the production of tires. It also focused on genomic and agronomic development of guayule and the environmental impact of producing tires made with guayule.

From this work, Cooper scientists produced several sets of concept passenger car tires in which all the natural and synthetic rubber is replaced by guayule natural rubber. The 100-percent guayule-based concept tires underwent extensive evaluation by Cooper’s technical team, including rigorous wheel and road tests, and were found to have overall performance at least equal to tires made with Hevea and synthetic rubber. Notably, the tires performed significantly better in rolling resistance, wet handling and wet braking than their conventional counterparts. Consortium members and their teams were able to drive on these tires produced as an outcome of the work completed by the grant team in the industry’s first ride and drive on 100 percent guayule concept tires at the Cooper Tire & Vehicle Test Center near San Antonio in June 2017.

Cooper’s progress in tire technology under the grant was aided by PanAridus’ success in manufacturing rubber using improved strains of guayule and deploying superior rubber extraction technology. Cooper, PanAridus and USDA-ARS worked closely to identify key variables impacting rubber quality and controlling these factors during the rubber manufacturing process, resulting in compounds with properties that behave more like Hevea natural rubber than guayule isolated from other processes.

In addition to the advances in rubber manufacturing and tire technology, consortium members USDA-ARS and Cornell University also reported significant progress in defining the guayule genome, completing the most detailed genetic characterization of the entire publicly available guayule collection to date. From this, scientists may eventually be able to identify genes that can be tuned to improve qualities such as rubber yield, plant size, drought tolerance and other positive characteristics.

Related advances were also made in agronomics by consortium member USDA-ARS, including irrigation and direct seeding. USDA-ARS completed the most extensive irrigation study of guayule ever conducted and developed a web-based tool for farmers to access an irrigation model online. The model will allow those growing the guayule plant to utilize research data to manage irrigation water usage for maximizing yields while controlling costs.

Consortium member Clemson University completed a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to quantify the environmental impact of producing tires from guayule including materials, energy and emissions from raw material procurement to end of life. Through the LCA, Clemson researchers found that the 100 percent guayule-based concept tire had between 6 to 30 percent lower emissions in 10 different life cycle environmental and energy impact categories compared with a conventional tire.

Cooper produced a number of concept passenger car tires in which all the natural and synthetic rubber was replaced by guayule natural rubber.

The 100-percent guayule-based concept tires underwent extensive evaluation by Cooper’s technical team, including rigorous wheel and road tests, and were found to have overall performance at least equal to tires made with Hevea and synthetic rubber. The tires performed significantly better in rolling resistance, wet handling and wet braking than their conventional counterparts.