Captain Rick: Bridgestone Corporation broke ground on a biorubber process research center in Mesa, Arizona. It will investigate innovative ways to better produce large quantities of natural rubber from a native southwestern shrub … the guayule. Latex from the guayule is hypoallergenic.
The site, which covers 10 acres, will include an 8,400-square-foot office and lab building, a four-platform, 3,500-square-foot shrub prep building and a 3,100-square-foot mechanical and electrical building. At completion, the center will have a staff of 40 researchers and technicians. The first rubber samples should be ready by mid-2015. Bridgestone has also begun construction on an agricultural facility in Eloy, Ariz., to grow the guayule for the Mesa research center.
What is Guayule?
Guayule (pronounced: gua-you-lay in Spanish), is a flowering shrub in the aster family, that is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. (Photo above left).
Its bark and roots can be used as an alternate source of latex to make natural rubber.
Latex is used to make rubber. Where does it come from? Where is it used?
Latex is the milky fluid inside 10% of all flowering plants. (Photo above right).
Most of the 20,000 species of plants that produce latex are not suitable for commercial use.
The most common source of latex used for commercial rubber production is from the hevea (rubber tree).
Other sources are from the poppy, mulberry, fig and asteraceae plant families. The latter shows the most promise for an alternative supply for commercial scale production. Guayule is in the asteraceae family.
Latex can also be made synthetically from petroleum products, though products do not stretch as well as natural latex from plants.
Latex is used to make mattresses, gloves, swim caps, condoms, catheters and balloons.
Why use Guayule to make rubber? One huge reason…its hypoallergenic!
While Hevea-derived rubber contains proteins that can cause severe allergic reactions in a few people, guayule does not.
With the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the surge in rubber glove usage revealed how many people were allergic to latex (about 10% of health care workers, according to OSHA), and thereby created a niche market for guayule.
There are synthetic alternatives for medical device products, but they are not as stretchable as natural rubber.
Guayule performs like Hevea but contains none of the proteins that cause latex allergies.
History of Guayule used as a commercial rubber latex source
In the 1920s, the shrub saw a brief and intense amount of agricultural research when a rubber company in California
produced 1400 tons of rubber after leaf blight decimated the Brazilian rubber industry.
Guayule again become a replacement for Hevea tree-produced latex during World War II when Japan cut off America’s Malaysian latex resources.
The war ended before large-scale farming of the guayule plant began, and the project was scrapped, as it was cheaper to import tree-derived latex than to crush the shrubs for a smaller amount of latex.
That scrapped vision from decades ago is coming to life today in Arizona.
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