ELOY, Ariz.—Bridgestone Americas Inc. is advancing both guayule rubber commercialization and its 100-percent sustainable materials program with the opening of its Agro Operations Guayule Research Farm in Eloy.
The Nashville-based tire maker announced completion of the 281-acre research center Oct. 5. The facility includes two greenhouses, an equipment storage building and a main research and laboratory building, as well as fields for growing guayule, a desert shrub native to Mexico and the southwestern U.S.
Roughly 40 acres at Eloy are planted with guayule, as well as individual guayule plants in the greenhouses that are being grown for research, according to Bill Niaura, Bridgestone Americas director of new business development.
Eventually, about half the acreage at the research center will consist of guayule fields, Niaura said.
Bridgestone's plan is for the research center to provide biomass for evaluation as a material to build tires by mid-2015, according to the company. That evaluation will take place at the company's BioRubber Process Research Center, which is still being built in Mesa, Ariz.
"We recognize the need for additional guayule acreage to support the opening of the Mesa research center," Niaura said. Toward this end, Bridgestone has an ongoing agreement with the University of Arizona to use acreage at the university's guayule research station in Maricopa, Ariz., he said.
Bridgestone and the University of Arizona have worked together on several previous guayule projects, he said.
Researcher at the Agro Operations site will work on projects to improve guayule genetics and rubber yield, as well as programs to scale up guayule seed availability for additional planting and production, the company said.
Also, workers at Eloy will build relationships with local independent farmers to ensure a sufficient supply of guayule going forward, according to Niaura.
"We're building a new business model, and we want to tell local farmers why guayule is a good choice as a cash crop, and why we will be good partners," he said.
Bridgestone's 100-percent sustainable materials program is being implemented on a timeline of 2020 to 2050, according to Niaura.
The tire maker is working on the development of a number of sustainable materials for tire manufacture.
Along with Cooper Tire & Rubber Co., Veyance Technologies L.L.C. and others, Bridgestone is a partner in the Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives, a research consortium devoted to research in rubber from the Russian dandelion. PENRA is based at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center at the Ohio State University-Wooster Campus.