Natural Rubber Today
|“It moves us, insulates us, protects us and cushions us, ingrained so deeply into our lives it can be found in nearly every machine, appliance, apparatus and gadget and its story is one of the most fantastic you’ll ever hear.”
This statement opened the 2004, History Channel Modern Marvels broadcast on Natural Rubber. They also point out that “Our four most important natural resources are air, water, petroleum, and rubber”. PENRA would have argued for soil to be part of the list. Nonetheless, while most people guess the first two, and some also come up with petroleum, almost no-one even imagines that rubber is fourth on this list.
Natural rubber is a critical agriculture material essential to the U.S. economy, used to make about 50,000 different products across all manufacturing sectors. The higher the product performance required, the greater the proportion of natural rubber: the rubber component of a passenger car tire may be 50% natural and 50% synthetic, but truck tires are 95-100% natural rubber. Airplanes land on 100% natural rubber tires – they would explode on landing if synthetic polymers were included. Surgeon’s gloves are also 100% natural rubber.
Almost all natural rubber is harvested by tapping tropical rubber trees and the U.S. imports about 1.5 million metric tons (3,306,000,000 lbs), an enormous amount. However, we now face a significant supply problem. As southeast Asia, India, China and Brazil expand and develop their economies, they need more and more rubber. The increasing demand is greater than all of our imports so where shall we get the rubber we need?
PENRA was created to integrate and accelerate the incubation, demonstration, market entry, and growth of a domestic natural rubber industry. PENRA focuses on the creation of the science and technology and the private partnerships needed to support the introduction and scale-up of natural rubber alternatives. Current research focuses on improvement of germplasm and processing techniques to increase production of natural rubber from Taraxacum kok-saghyz, utilization of allergen-free latex produced from guayule, and evaluation of the natural rubber potential of other plants. The Cornish Lab at the Ohio State University’s Wooster campus is the primary research lab.