WOOSTER, Ohio–EnergyEne Inc. is receiving nearly $650,000 in grant money to help develop a viable market for latex taken from the guayule shrub.
The Wooster firm, formed by Katrina Cornish, is receiving a new small business grant of $648,557 from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The money, offered through the Small Business Innovation Research Program, will further efforts to use the material to create gloves that protect medical workers from radiation.
EnergyEne sees the radiation attenuation market as a potential fit for gloves made from guayule latex instead of the latex tapped from rubber trees or synthetic latex.
The thought is the higher costs of producing gloves with guayule latex can be absorbed because medical grade radiation attenuation gloves are priced higher than surgical and exam gloves.
"This premium niche market allows guayule to be profitably produced and processed on a small scale," according to a description of the project from the USDA. "The more expensive GNRL (guayule natural rubber latex) is directly offset by eliminating the current need to wear a secondary medical-grade glove to protect against blood borne pathogens during medical procedures. The need for both a medical and a separate RA glove can be eliminated if a GNRL RA glove is worn because the GNRL RA glove meets both RA and pathogen protection needs."
Creation of a viable market, in this case gloves, for guayule rubber is seen as a gateway to developing broader demand for the material.
"EnergyEne discovered an unmet need for a higher performing natural latex-based, medical RA glove which can only be met by guayule latex film's unique combination of high strength, elasticity, softness, and high filler loading capacity. Manufacture and sale of first-to-market, high profit margin (e.g. niche market) guayule latex products, like this RA glove, can be addressed with latex production from small acreages and pilot plant production. Production of these gloves provides the initial cornerstone to our longer-term goal of guayule expansion, additional investment, and the massive agricultural rural development that guayule farming, latex and coproducts will provide across the southwestern U.S.," a description of the project states.
Cornish, a professor at Ohio State University's Wooster campus, is a recognized expert is the field of alternative sources of latex.