Goodyear, meanwhile, may have two viable alternative natural rubber options at its disposal.
The tire maker is looking very closely at the viability of dandelion rubber as an alternative rubber source, and it has committed millions of dollars to related research and development efforts.
In April, the Akron-based tire maker said it planned to work with Cincinnati-based Farmed Materials Inc. to help research and cultivate a commercially viable source of dandelion rubber. The initiative launched this spring with the planting of dandelion crops in Ohio.
Goodyear noted that the "multi-year, multi-million-dollar" dandelion research effort is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force Research Lab and BioMADE.
"Global demand for natural rubber continues to grow, and it remains a key raw material for the tire industry," Chris Helsel, Goodyear senior vice president of global operations and chief technology officer, said in statement when the partnership was announced. "This is a critical time to develop a domestic source of natural rubber, which may help mitigate future supply chain challenges."
And when it comes to domestic sources of NR, Goodyear may have an avenue to explore guayule as well.
The acquisition of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. brought into the Goodyear fold some significant expertise and experience in the development of guayule as a natural rubber source for tires. Cooper previously received a $6.9 million U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to join in the guayule research efforts. From there, the Findlay-based tire maker heavily invested in research and development of guayule for a five-year period.
During that time, Cooper served as the leader in the consortium and developed several concept tires for passenger cars using guayule. The team found that the 100-percent guayule-based concept tires performed at least equal to tires made with hevea and synthetic rubber. The tires also performed significantly better in rolling resistance, wet handling and wet braking than their conventional counterparts, Cooper said.
At this point, it appears that Goodyear is leaning more heavily toward dandelion rubber as the promising alternative source of natural rubber. But, as Chief Sustainability Officer Ellis Jones notes, Goodyear is open to solutions that help it establish a more sustainable future and develop products that optimize safety, performance and life cycles.
"We think about the impact of climate change in that region, in Southeast Asia, and think about the resiliency of the supply chain. We want to make sure we have another source of natural rubber," Jones told Rubber News. "(Cooper's) material science team is with our material science team, so that is something that they will look at. We think dandelion rubber is it. But with Cooper coming on board, we will take a look at their science behind it."