Researchers are working constantly to find more sustainable means of producing materials that the average person relies on every day. The projects that get the most press are the ones that have to do with green energy. Recently, reports have come out that the temperature of the Earth is increasing even faster than scientists had initially predicted. This has led to renewed interest in topics like solar power and wind power. But the way that people harness energy isn’t the only concern, though it has the highest profile. Take for example the tires on a car.
Most tires that are widely available are composed mostly of synthetic rubber. The problem with that is the fact that synthetic rubbers are petroleum based, just like plastics. Take into consideration how much rubber and plastic is used on an annual basis and it’s easy to see why the dependency on petroleum makes people so uneasy. It is costly and pumps millions of tons of pollution into the atmosphere constantly. But researchers in the southwest United States may be onto something that could potentially change the way we source our rubber. Though they are still in the polymer testing stages, there is hope that the desert plant guayule may produce suitable biopolymers that will create natural rubber to replace synthetic rubbers and current natural rubbers that are tropical based.
Guayule, which grows in Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico, has a curious history. Between the 1920s and the 1940s, the plant drew intense interest as a rubber alternative when blight decimated Brazilian sources. Similarly, it was used to create latex during a brief period in World War II when America was cut off from Malaysia, where it got much of its latex. Now, with the focus on finding sustainable means of production, researchers have turned their attention back to the plant as a source of useful polymers.
Researchers believe that after successful polymer testing, guayule will be considered a serious source for natural rubber polymers. It’s greener and it doesn’t compete for resources with local food crops. The hope is that once research proves that the plant has major potential, that then steps can be taken to turn a strain of guayule into an industrial crop that is grown and harvested specifically for its natural rubber polymers. This crop of guayule would be developed in such a way that it would constantly produce tire-grade materials.
Is this relatively unknown desert plant one of the keys to sustainable development? It could very well be.