Background

There is a large global demand by many types of manufacturers for natural rubber (NR), amongst the largest of which are tire manufacturers. Michelin is number one followed by Goodyear. NR is preferable to artificially produced forms of latex. A typical passenger car tire contains ~50% NR and basic aircraft tires can contain up to 90% NR. Irrespective, it has been projected recently that demand for tires will be as high as 3.3 billion units by 2015.

The demand for NR will soon challenge established NR production capabilities: plantations in Southeast Asia where rubber trees are cultivated and manually tapped giving crude rubber latex material. Four countries: Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia provide >70% of the world’s rubber supply; the remainder comes largely from India and Brazil. China recently has built large tire manufacturing capabilities and is purchasing NR from these same countries and will compete more aggressively on a global scale.

Presently, the US is the largest consumer of tires in the world; the US military is amongst the largest single user of tires. The US Congress has declared NR as “a commodity of vital importance to the economy, the defense and the general well-being of the Nation” (Critical Agricultural Materials Act, Public Law 107-293, Nov 12, 2002, Sec 2 07 U.S.C 178). In search of a secure domestic production capability for NR, LLNL together with USDA scientists have developed a scalable nanoparticle technology that enables biosynthesis of natural rubber.

Description

In collaboration with USDA, LLNL has developed and tested in vitro (or ex vivo) production of natural rubber polymer by using NLP-stabilized rubber transferase.

Advantages

The overall advantage is creation/development of a molecular process that results in a rubber production capability – that is essentially plant-free. The latter will lead to domestic NR supply, and lessen dependency on imported material. Achieving this goal on a molecular scale and understanding the basic science underpinning rubber biosynthesis will eventually enable development of scalable ex vivo processes that could lead to a secure supply of a critical raw material as well as lowering overall raw material and production costs; it is anticipated. The primary commercial application of this process will be to supply a domestically produced raw material. The overall advantage would be that natural rubber (NR) would become a domestically produced raw material, possibly becoming a commodity.

Potential Applications

  • Tire manufacturing
  • Medical supplies, e.g. rubber/latex examination gloves, surgical tubing
  • Automotive industry (beyond tires), e.g. tubing and hoses, engine seals, etc.
  • Toy industry, e.g. rubber ducks, etc.

Feature

Benefit

Biotechnological-based approach using rubber biosynthetic enzymes to produce natural rubber.

Enable domestic production of natural rubber or NR.

stabilize membrane associated rubber transferase biosynthetic enzyme complex.

Facilitate ex vivo or plant free NR bio-synthesis

allow screening of multiple complexes stabilized by LLNL NLP technology.

Identify optimal formulation for maximal NR production.

Development Status

In collaboration with scientists at USDA, ARS, Albany, CA, we have demonstrated that NLP constructs stabilized a population of nanoparticles capable of producing polyisoprene. The technology is at an early stage of development (between technical readiness level (TRL) 1 and 2).

Reference Number
28814
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