Since the very first discovery of rubber tire manufacturers have been dependent on this critical raw material from a single region of the globe, and in turn, have seen their supply chains become very vulnerable. Everything from disease to bad weather to political upheaval, and environmental issues all have the potential to inflict significant disruptions on their business.
It's pretty sensible for manufacturers of rubber products to search for an alternative to the single supply source. In World War II, the Japanese cut off rubber supplies, making it necessary for the U.S. to find alternatives. This problem birthed our domestic synthetic rubber industry, and along with it, our modern petrochemical industry.
But the chemical properties of natural rubber make it an essential ingredient for use in truck and aircraft tires, and there can be no substitute. This is why tire manufacturers have long sought an alternative to using natural rubber from rubber trees.
Still, there are other products once made using natural rubber can be made using alternative sources. Now scientists have finally been able to extract rubber economically from a plant called guayule (Parthenium argentatum Gray), that's native to the southwestern U.S.
Chemical and Engineering News published an article this week that explains how scientists have developed an extraction process to get the rubber trapped in the cells of the Guayule plant. The process is already being used in the manufacture of numerous latex products and a very popular wetsuit. While the process is still a bit costly, tire manufacturers are poised to benefit, and test crops are already being grown in arid locations in different parts of the country and around the world.
The discovery shows how with advances in technology resources we have in our own backyard can be used to make products using processes we might not have thought possible in years gone by.