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Bridgestone and Versalis partner to expand guayule research efforts

Bridgestone Americas, Inc., (BSAM) the US subsidiary of Japan-headed Bridgestone Corporation, the world's largest tire and rubber company and Italy-headed polymer and elastomer producer Versalis S.p.A., a subsidiary of Italian oil and gas major Eni S.p.A., are forming a strategic partnership to develop and deploy a "comprehensive technology package" to commercialize guayule in the agricultural, sustainable-rubber and renewable-chemical sectors.

Guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is an evergreen shrub that originated in the arid zone from the southwestern part of the USA to northern Mexico and can be grown in environments totally different from those suited for para rubber trees (Hevea brasiliensis), the current primary source of natural rubber (latex). The rubber constituent contained therein is very similar to that of para rubber trees thus guayule is expected to become a new source of natural rubber (photo courtesy Bridgestone).

According to a statement, the partnership combines Bridgestone’s leadership position in guayule agriculture and production technologies with Versalis’ core strengths in commercial-scale process engineering and market development for renewables.

The partnership brings together the two largest global guayule research efforts under common project management, working toward a common goal of deploying a commercially attractive technology package. The two companies will also make the new joint technology available to industrial partners willing to cooperate in maximizing the value of these innovative products.

Every collaboration, including this latest one with Versalis, brings us closer to our goal of developing new, domestic and sustainable sources for natural rubber that ultimately benefit our customers and our natural environment through more sustainable rubber products. This work is one of many ways we are using innovation to achieve our long-term vision of manufacturing products from raw materials that are fully renewable and sustainable by 2050 and beyond, said Nizar Trigui, Chief Technology Officer, Bridgestone Americas.

The agreement will enable Bridgestone and Versalis to focus on developing proprietary, highly productive varieties of guayule using the latest genetic technologies. The associated growing protocols developed in line with this agreement may position guayule as an attractive and profitable crop for independent growers in appropriate regions.

Through the collaboration, guayule process technologies will be optimized at the Bridgestone Biorubber Process Research Center (BPRC) in Mesa, Arizona, to achieve industry-leading performance for product yield and quality.

Versalis will lead the product development activities to monetize the guayule rubber production, also for non-rubber components. As for resins, market applications will include adhesives and wood protection while bagasse has shown promising performance as a feedstock for the production of industrial sugars suitable for biofuels or chemical precursors.

Bridgestone also highlights that realizing a “sustainable natural rubber supply chain” which includes addressing not only deforestation but also labour rights, land use, water use and quality is a “business imperative”. The agreement with Versalis is seen as a “significant milestone” in a bid to develop a new and domestic source of natural rubber.

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