What is in this article?:
- The importance of developing alternative sources of natural rubber becomes clear when considering that there has been a shortage in the supply of this critical resource every year since 2004.
- By 2020, the global shortfall of natural rubber is projected to be more than the entire amount (1.2 million metric tons) the U.S. imports every year.
The second plant being researched at OARDC is guayule, a shrub native to the southwestern U.S. that produces rubber safe for latex allergy sufferers. Cornish is a national expert on guayule, having served as senior vice president of research and development for Yulex, a company founded to commercialize the technology she developed while working for 15 years in the area of domestic rubber crop development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cornish and other Ohio State researchers are conducting trials in southern Ohio to test the adaptability of guayule to the region.
OARDC's pilot plant now allows researchers to produce rubber samples from these plants that are large enough for industry testing. In the case of TKS, this is accomplished thanks to rubber-extraction equipment based on a process initially devised during World War II (when the U.S. first studied TKS), and which has been refined and further developed by OARDC biosystems engineer Fred Michel.
The pilot plant can produce compression-molded and dipped products, such as medical gloves; macro, micro and nano fillers, which are used in a variety of industrial products as reinforcement; and filled latex and rubber test samples. OARDC conducts latex and some rubber testing, while polymer science experts at the University of Akron carry out additional rubber testing to see if the samples meet industry standards.
So far, the results are favorable.
"Our recent studies continue to indicate that TKS has the potential to produce similar properties to Asia-produced rubber," said Mouri, whose team at Bridgestone has also developed prototype tires made from guayule rubber. "We work very closely with Ohio State because we don't have expertise in plant breeding and agricultural research. Our expertise is in evaluating if the rubber is suitable for tire applications. So we make a good combination."