MESA, Ariz.—A 30-year-old prototype truck tire, made entirely from guayule rubber, sits in a prominent place in the reception area of the Bridgestone Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa.
The presence of this weathered tire stresses the continuation of innovation that began with Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., predecessor of Bridgestone Americas, and continues through the opening of the Mesa center, a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to research and development in guayule as a commercial natural rubber crop.
“The rubber industry has reached a critical juncture,” said Bill Niaura, director of new business development for Bridgestone Americas, at the Sept. 22 ribbon-cutting ceremony that officially opened the 10-acre guayule research, development and pilot processing complex.
The new center includes a single-story, 8,300-sq.-ft. office and laboratory building; a 3,500-sq.-ft. shrub prep building; a two-level, 5,500-sq.-ft. building for rubber extraction, co-products and solvent recycling; and a 3,100 sq.-ft. mechanical and electrical building.
With 97 percent of the world's natural rubber coming from Hevea brasiliensis trees in Southeast Asia, the need for biodiversity and a domestic U.S. source for NR is greater than ever, according to Niaura. “Guayule could be a game-changer for the industry,” he said.
Other speakers at the ceremony included Yoshi-yuki Morimoto, senior vice president and chief technology officer for Bridgestone Corp.; Asahiko “Duke” Nishiyama, executive chairman of the board for Bridgestone Corp.; Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett; Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.; and Mesa Mayor John Giles.
The center operates in close collaboration with Bridgestone's 281-acre Agro Operation Guayule Research Farm in Eloy, Ariz. Both operations employ a total of 30, according to Niaura. Bridgestone did not make public the amount it has invested in those operations.
The Mesa center and the Eloy farm are part of the research initiative Bridgestone announced in 2011 to diversify the world's NR supply, according to company publicity. That initiative in turn is part of Bridgestone's long-term vision of manufacturing products from fully renewable and sustainable raw materials by 2050, it said.