AZPM's podcast Arizona Science recently featured CHEE department chair Kim Ogden in a conversation about creating rubber sustainably with the desert shrub, guayule. Ogden is leading a five-year, $70 million project to turn the plant into an alternative source of natural rubber. She is teaming up with Bridgestone Americas Inc. to grow and process guayule for use in tires and other rubber products.
"Now is the time because the price of rubber has gone up, and there is only one species of the rubber tree, and that's a problem because if there's any type of blight you can wipe it all out," Ogden said. "We've all seen supply chain issues, so if you can't get it from Indonesia, that's a problem. So it's really time to look for alternative sources to have something domestic."
Ogden is working to make the guayule resin into natural adhesives, as well as biofuels with the plant's leftover wood. However, because of Arizona regulations, new farms cannot be created; existing farms need to switch to growing guayule.
"Right now Bridgestone will go in and seed everything to get it started," Ogden said. "Once it's started and it's come up, it doesn't need as much herbicide or pesticide. It grows pretty well. We have to educate the growers to let it be, because once it comes up you kind of just leave it alone."