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Future Cooper Tire tires could spring from a desert shrub

It might sound like a lofty quest beset by Monty Python characters, but Cooper Tire and Rubber Co. is dead serious in its plan to develop tires from a desert shrub.

According to The New York Times, Cooper Tire has made large strides developing a synthetic rubber from the guayule plant which proliferates in southwestern deserts.

The company plans, in short order, to demonstrate tires that have been developed from this new formula and expect to have a final product ready for 2017. PanAridus will grow the guayule and manufacture the rubber as part of the consortium who have banded together to develop a domestic industry for the versatile shrub.

“In two years,” said Mike Fraley, chief executive of PanAridus, “we’ve traveled from test tubes to tires.”

What this means in the long run is a reduced dependence on petroleum and the ability to create a durable rubber from inexpensive, renewable resources. The US government has been keen for companies to switch to guayule-based materials due to the price fluctuations of imported natural rubber.

As for the plant itself, the idea of using it for natural rubber production goes as far back as the early 1900s when industrialists harvested the bush from Mexico. The Mexican Revolution derailed commercial production, but interest resurfaced when the Japanese cut off access to imported hevea-based rubber.

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If guayule has been our go-to when the chips are down, then why isn’t it our main natural rubber source already? It turns out that hevea’s rubber is less prone to cracking and prevents heat buildup. Cooper Tires feels it has solved these issues, and has fully developed guayule tire components, and the firm is now ramping up to go full tire.