Bridgestone Americas Takes Next Step Towards Natural Rubber Sourcing
Sustainability is at the heart of every organisation nowadays, and the goal to achieve carbon neutrality within a certain timeline is driving this theory.
Over the last decades, N number of efforts have been taken by businesses and companies across industries to achieve carbon neutrality.
In the automotive space, from vehicle makers to the smallest component manufacturer, they have also entered the marathon to achieve carbon neutrality, including the tyre makers, with the latest being Bridgestone.
Bridgestone Americas has announced plans to step up on commercialising the woody desert shrub, guayule, as a domestic source of natural rubber and as a more environmentally sustainable crop in America’s drought-stricken desert southwest. It targets sustainable commercial production of guayule-derived natural rubber by the decade’s end.
Now with a planned additional investment of $42 million, Bridgestone aims to establish commercial operations, with additional investment and expansion planned toward 2030. To achieve this, the tyre maker has partnered with local US farmers and native American tribes to increase the capacity of up to 25,000 additional acres of farmland for planting and harvesting guayule at scale.
Under this, Bridgestone is expanding the number of local farmers it works with in Central Arizona and is targeting 350 new acres of guayule to be planted this coming year.
The conversion to less water-intensive crops is a direct result of Bridgestone’s agreement with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), an NGO actively involved in water shortage solutions for the Colorado River, which is used for irrigation in Central Arizona.
It must be noted that Guayule is part of the Bridgestone plan to achieve carbon neutrality and make tyres from 100% renewable materials by 2050. The company is actively researching various solutions to support recycling materials from end-of-life tyres and promoting replacing non-renewable materials such as oil, silica, and virgin carbon black in new tyres.
The guayule initiative aligns with the Bridgestone E8 Commitment that consists of eight Bridgestone-like values starting with the letter ‘E’ (Energy, Ecology, Efficiency, Extension, Economy, Emotion, Ease, and Empowerment) to realize a sustainable society. The guayule initiative aligns with the company’s ‘Ecology’ and ‘Energy’ commitments.
Story So Far
Guayule is a heat tolerant, woody shrub that thrives in desert settings, particularly in America’s desert southwest. The shrub can be farmed with existing row-crop equipment, saving costs for farmers, and requires as little as half the water to grow as existing crops, such as cotton and alfalfa.
Bridgestone launched its guayule research initiative in 2012 when it broke ground on a processing and research centre in Mesa, Arizona. Today, the company operates the research centre in Mesa and a 281-acre guayule farm in Eloy, Arizona. Bridgestone has invested more than $100 million in its efforts to commercialise guayule, achieving major milestones such as producing the first tyre made from guayule-derived natural rubber in 2015 and continued expansion of its guayule molecular breeding programme.
Bridgestone is also the recipient of multiple US Government research grants for guayule research and development, including from the US Department of Agriculture in July 2017 and from the US Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute in September 2021.
Now though, the tyre maker plans to showcase the performance of guayule on the race tracks. Its Firestone Firehawk race tyres made with guayule-derived natural rubber in the sidewall were introduced at the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge in May, before making a full competition debut as the alternate race tyre at the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville on August 7.
Interestingly, it is claimed as the first-ever use of guayule-derived natural rubber in America’s premier open-wheel racing series. It demonstrated the safety and performance of the material in the crucible of a high-speed, high-stress performance environment, with racing action up to speeds of 200 mph.
Other Players In The Race
Besides Bridgestone, other tyre manufacturers are also sustainably aiming to source rubber. For example, Continental Tires recently announced that since July 2022, all newly produced tyres under its “Gravity” mountain bike product range features responsibly sourced natural rubber from a project in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Through this project with its partners, Continental demonstrates how education and digitalisation can play a key role in establishing sustainable natural rubber supply chains.
Continental and the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) launched the joint project in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan back in 2018 to prevent sustainability risks.
The project aims to enable smallholders in the natural rubber sector to cultivate a high-quality product in compliance with clearly defined sustainability criteria. This will help to boost their income.
Moreover, during the Continental TechTalk “Sustainability & E-Mobility,” the company announced that it aims to go 100% sustainable by 2050.
It plans to go 100% carbon neutral in the supply and value chain and source 100% of the materials responsible by 2050. It noted that the current range of tyres from the company is made up of 37% renewable materials, and in the near future, it aims to take the number up to 57%.
Further, as a step towards its goals by 2050, the tyre company is also reusing PET bottles as a raw material for its products with the ContiRe.Tex technology. Notably, out of one million PET bottles disposed of every minute, only half of them get recycled. To reduce this, the company started with the technology; however, it noted that the bottles are not taken out of a circular system.
According to Continental, at present, each of the tyres produced by the company uses an average of nine to ten recycled bottles.