Tyre makers seek 'bounce' from alternative rubber sources
MAJOR Japanese tyre makers, concerned about rubber shortages in light of growing demand for tyres in emerging countries, are turning away from rubber trees to other rubber-yielding plants.
World consumption of natural rubber has more than doubled in the past 20 years. Currently, rubber-tree plantations are concentrated in South-east Asia.
Bridgestone released prototype tyres made of rubber extracted from guayule, a desert shrub grown in North and Central America, in October last year. According to the company, there is little difference in mileage or performance between tyres made of rubber from rubber trees and those produced with rubber that comes from the guayule shrub.
Bridgestone built a 114ha experimental farm in Arizona in 2013, and opened a research and processing facility the following year.
The company is working towards practical use of natural rubber made from the guayule shrub in early 2020, while working on such problems as supplies, processing and costs.
Bridgestone chief executive Masaaki Tsuya said prices of oil and natural rubber will not always remain cheap and environmental awareness will grow. "It's very important to develop alternative sources," he added.
Sumitomo Rubber Industries, which produces the Dunlop brand, has started research on the Russian dandelion, a plant native to Central Asia that can grow in temperate regions.
It is said rubber can be extracted from the roots of the plant.
Overseas makers, including Continental, have also conducted research on the Russian dandelion.
According to one estimate, worldwide tyre demand will increase by about 4 per cent a year due to increasing sales of cars in emerging countries.
"Amid growing demand for tyres, we've been focusing on using natural resources," a spokesman for Sumitomo Rubber Industries said.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK