Bridgestone Americas Inc. (BSA) is one step closer to its long-term environmental goal of developing a new, domestic and commercially-viable source for natural rubber. BSA, a subsidiary of the world's largest tire and rubber manufacturer, Bridgestone Corporation, has announced the grand opening of its Biorubber Process Research Center in Mesa, AZ. The 10-acre research and innovation campus is the center of Bridgestone's efforts to extract natural rubber from guayule, a shrub native to the southwestern U.S.
At a ribbon cutting celebration this morning, Bridgestone said it expects to have preliminary guayule rubber samples produced at the Biorubber Process Research Center within the next month. Guayule rubber has qualities almost identical to those of natural rubber harvested from hevea rubber trees, making it a potentially valuable source for tire-grade rubber in commercial applications. Currently, more than 90% of the world's natural rubber supply comes from hevea rubber trees grown in Southeast Asia.
"The opening of the Bridgestone Biorubber Process Research Center is a significant milestone in Bridgestone's journey to develop a new and domestic source of natural rubber," says Bill Niaura, Director of New Business Development, Bridgestone Americas, Inc. "Through this innovation project and others like it, Bridgestone is positioning itself to meet the constant, anticipated growth in demand for natural rubber, while also moving closer to achieving its long-term vision of manufacturing products from raw materials that are fully renewable and sustainable by 2050."
Home to more than 30 researchers and technicians, the Biorubber Process Research Center site includes an 8,300-square-foot single-story office and laboratory building; a four-platform, 3,500-square-foot shrub prep building; a 5,500-square-foot, two-level process building for rubber extraction, co-product and solvent recycling; and a 3,100-square-foot mechanical and electrical building. The center was designed by Wadsworth, OH-based architectural firm Louis Perry and Associates, and was built with advanced materials from Bridgestone subsidiary, Firestone Building Products, which contribute to energy efficiency.
"It's phenomenal to see innovation projects like Bridgestone's Biorubber Process Research Center finding their home here in Mesa," says John Giles, Mayor of Mesa. "We hope this is the beginning of an entire industry taking root that will provide jobs and opportunities for our community."
"Southeast Mesa has become a hub for science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related businesses," says Mesa's District 6 Councilmember Scott Somers. "Bridgestone in Mesa brings high-tech, high-wage jobs to the district, raises the profile of the entire area and helps get Mesa closer to the goal of 100,000 high-paying jobs."
Bridgestone will supply the Biorubber Process Research Center with biomass for rubber production from guayule grown on its 281-acre Agro Operations Research Farm in nearby Eloy, AZ. The Agro Operations site includes two greenhouses, an equipment storage building and a main research and laboratory building. Bridgestone employs a team of scientists at the farm who research the genetic improvement of guayule, optimizing agronomic practices for growing the crop and supplying biomass for the Biorubber Process Research Center.
Guayule rubber produced at the Biorubber Process Research Center will be sent to Bridgestone's technical centers in both Akron, OH, and Tokyo, Japan. At those facilities, engineers will work to optimize rubber performance within Bridgestone's product line and explore the full potential for next-generation tires.