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Pathway to domestic natural rubber production: a cradle-to-grave life cycle assessment of the first guayule automobile tire manufactured in the United States

  • Pragnya L. Eranki
  • Amy E. Landis
LCA FOR AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES AND BIOBASED INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTS

Abstract

Purpose

Guayule (Parthenium argentatum) is a perennial shrub that can be cultivated in the Southwestern US. It produces natural rubber that could be a viable substitute for Hevea natural rubber and synthetic rubbers currently used in tires. Drivers for producing domestic guayule rubber include fluctuations in price and availability of imported Hevea rubber. A tire was manufactured in 2017 where guayule rubber was substituted for all of the Hevea and synthetic rubber in the conventional tire.

Methods

Life cycle assessment (LCA) from cradle to grave was used to evaluate the environmental and energy sustainability of the guayule tire, and these metrics were benchmarked against those of the conventional tire (CT). Functional units of 1 kg natural rubber for agricultural processes, as well as 1 tire for the cradle-to-grave study were considered. Life cycle inventory (LCI) data were collected directly from primary sources, including guayule field experiments, a rubber-processing company, and a major tire manufacturer. Scenario analysis was used to evaluate alternative processes, such as irrigation options in guayule cultivation, processing scale in rubber extraction, and selection of allocation methodology in LCAs. Model uncertainty was characterized using Monte Carlo analysis.

Results and discussion

The LC energy consumption of the guayule tire (GT) was 13.7 GJ/tire (including co-product credits, excluding C sequestration during agriculture), compared to 16.4 GJ/tire for the CT. The GT had 6–30% lower emissions than CT in ten different environmental impact categories. Bagasse co-product in energy applications showed benefits of reducing energy consumption by 10% and decreasing environmental impacts by up to 11%. GT’s use-phase resulted in the highest energy consumption (95%) and environmental impacts ranging between 81 and 99%. Variables in use phase, i.e., rolling resistance coefficient, vehicle efficiency, and tire lifetime, and those in guayule cultivation i.e., rubber and biomass yields, were key model parameters. The effect of excluded but potentially important model parameters, i.e., guayule carbon sequestration and resin co-product were tested via sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions

Based on these results that factored in the lower rolling resistance coefficient of a guayule tire—a significant element that improves the fuel economy of an automobile—the guayule rubber tire shows promise in its ability to replace current conventional tires. The first commercially manufactured guayule rubber passenger tire will most likely substitute components, which are either partially or fully guayule, instead of guayule replacing 100% of the existing rubbers as shown in this study.

Keywords

Environmental impacts Guayule Hevea Life cycle analysis (LCA) Passenger tire Natural rubber 

Abbreviations

ALARC

Arid Land Agricultural Research Center

AP

Acidification potential

CT

Conventional tire

CT&RC

Cooper Tire and Rubber Company

EOL

End-of-life

EP

Eutrophication potential

ET

Ecotoxicity

FFD

Fossil fuel depletion

GRT

Guayule rubber tire

GT

Guayule tire

GWP

Global warming potential

HHC

Human health carcinogenics

HHNC

Human health non-carcinogenics

HHRE

Human health respiratory effects

LCA

Life cycle assessment

LCI

Life cycle inventory

LCIA

Life cycle impact assessment

MCA

Monte Carlo analysis

PCR

Product Category Rule

TDF

Tire-derived fuels

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank team members at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, USDA ALARC, and PanAridus. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USDA, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, and PanAridus.

Funding information

This work was supported by the Biomass Research and Development Initiative (BRDI) grant (USDA-NIFA 2012-10006-19391 OH).

Supplementary material

11367_2018_1572_MOESM1_ESM.docx (840 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 840 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringColorado School of MinesGoldenUSA

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