MANCHESTER, England—Global demand for tires will double in the coming three decades to about 2 billion units a year, but the industry's ability to meet that demand could be limited by a lack of natural rubber, Bridgestone Corp. executive Keizo Akutagawa warned at the IRC RubberCon 2014 conference in Manchester.
Pressures on supply would drive up prices for NR and other raw materials, while tire makers would face environmental issues when seeking to expand their manufacturing and supply-chain operations, according to Akutagawa, general manager of materials development.
“Since 2000, prices for natural rubber and oil have increased very rapidly due to growth in the Chinese economy,” Akutagawa said. “In future, we can expect to see this trend continue as the number of vehicles produced worldwide increases."
To meet the developing potential shortage, Bridgestone is working to develop promising new raw materials—particularly guayule and dandelion rubber—along with efforts to protect Hevea rubber tree plantations from the threat of white root disease.
“This is a serious problem for the natural rubber industry, especially in Southeast Asia,” Akutagawa said. “It is caused by rigidoporus microporus, which destroys roots, and there is no effective treatment. So we need to develop new technology to find the disease in the early stages.”
To address the NR blight problem, Bridgestone is working with government agencies in its home country and in Indonesia to explore the effectiveness of satellite imaging to check the condition of Hevea tree over large areas of plantation.
Other approaches, the Bridgestone exec said, include the use of optical spectrometers and infrared cameras to detect variations in the leaf colour of natural rubber trees, protein analysis of latex and fungal DNA analysis of soil.
“All tire manufacture relies on Hevea rubber, and in future we will need much more of (these trees),” he added, noting that Bridgestone is also involved in programs to increase the productivity of Hevea plantations.