Tire company Bridgestone is investing in research on guayule — a tough, desert-growing shrub that can be used to make natural rubber.
The manufacturer has cultivated 281 acres of the new crop so far and has announced plans to completely switch to unlimited resources like plant-based rubber by 2050.
Currently, most tires are made from synthetic rubber, which is an oil product. Since there is only a limited amount of oil in the world, manufacturers will eventually run out. Also, drilling for oil can cause pollution, and used tires are also polluting and difficult to recycle.
By contrast, plant-based sources of rubber can be regrown without polluting the environment, so they’re endlessly renewable and eco-friendly.
Guayule is a tough, woody plant that needs very little water, making it ideal for the dry American southwest. It can be grown with existing farm equipment, too.
Switching to resources like this will help keep manufacturing costs down as oil gets more scarce in the future, so consumer prices stay under control.
Bridgestone’s plan to farm guayule in the U.S. will also benefit farmers. Interested growers can switch over from more water-loving crops like cotton and alfalfa, saving money in times of drought. Producing the rubber here also eliminates the need to ship rubber or oil from overseas, cutting pollution from shipping and spills.
Bridgestone has invested more than $100 million in its guayule research center in Mesa, Arizona, in the past 10 years and has earmarked another $42 million. It plans to add 350 acres of guayule-producing land this year and as many as 25,000 acres by 2030, when it plans to establish commercial production of natural rubber.
It already debuted its guayule rubber tires last May at the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge, where the tires’ high-level performance proved they’re a working alternative to synthetic rubber tires.