CASA GRANDE, Ariz.—Michael Fraley, CEO of guayule development firm PanAridus L.L.C., often has said he plans to create a profitable commercial market for guayule “at warp speed.”
In his most recent interview, Fraley said he no longer wants to achieve that goal. He is achieving it.
“I'm not talking about a pipe dream,” he said. “The goal of some guayule operations is to achieve commercialization by 2020. That's not the goal of this organization. We expect to achieve commercial success long before that.”
In the autumn of 2012, PanAridus began offering samples of its guayule rubber to all interested tire companies. Two years later—at the same time Pan-Aridus received its ninth Plant Variety Patent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture—the company shipped its first bale of tire-grade guayule rubber.
“PanAridus is the only organization that has been producing tons of guayule rubber for its collaborators,” Fraley said. “We can do much more in-depth analysis of our polymers to establish its usefulness in various applications.”
While guayule rubber has broad applications, he said, PanAridus concentrates on making tire-grade rubber.
“We had to target a lane, and we're staying in that lane,” he said. “There is a proliferation of products that can use guayule, but you have to have economic sense and prove that this is a long-term project.”
PanAridus has contacts with multinational companies that are interested in the company's tire-grade guayule rubber, Fraley said, but non-disclosure agreements prevent him from naming them.
Besides the firm's Plant Variety Patents, it has several other patent applications under review, according to Fraley. These patents cover important areas including genetics (“We have by far the largest exclusive collection of guayule germplasm in the world,” he said); a process to evaluate guayule in the field for rubber yield; and a technique for direct seeding of guayule.
However, patents aren't obtained overnight. Genetic patents can take 15 months, and mechanical patents 20 months or more, Fraley said.
Another important part of PanAridus' operations, he said, is its work with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service within USDA to certify the company's guayule seed for legal exportation to customers abroad.
“We need to be a global organization,” he said.
APHIS investigates the fields of Pan-Aridus and other agricultural companies for noxious weeds and to make sure the plants and seeds are true to type, according to Fraley. But once the agency qualifies a batch of seed, it remains qualified for as long as it remains viable, he said.
Guayule bagasse (stems, pulp, bark) and resins have considerable potential as a biofuel, and PanAridus and its competitors have expended much effort on achieving that. Recently Biofuels Digest magazine named PanAridus and another Arizona-based guayule development company, Yulex Corp., as two of the 35 Hottest Companies in Feedstock Development and Supply.
PanAridus is working with a large organization to convert bagasse into Jet-A Fuel for airliners, Fraley said.
Also, there is a lot of potential for using bagasse to make naturally termite-resistant fiberboard for construction projects, and guayule resin as a sustainable building adhesive, he said.
Finally, PanAridus is in the preliminary stages of planning a commercial production facility, and the firm plans to make an announcement by the holiday season this year, according to Fraley.
“We expect 2015 and 2016 to be an important time for PanAridus,” he said.