Greener rubber hits the road

In the early 1980s, author William Least Heat-Moon chronicled his travels on America’s forgotten routes in Blue Highways. Today, some Missouri S&T researchers are working on making the nation’s highways green – or at least greener.

David Richardson and Mike Lusher of S&T’s civil, environmental and architectural engineering department are looking at ways to use rubber and resin from the guayule plant to help pave roads. They’re trying to determine if guayule (pronounced why-YOU-lee) can be used as a source of renewable material in the production of asphalt.
About 93 percent of the roads in the United States – or 5.3 million miles – are paved with asphalt. According to the researchers, guayule could replace petroleum-based products that are currently used for highway construction.
“The prospect of developing a new and better product for highway construction makes this research both exciting and important,” says Richardson, an associate professor. “The project will evaluate new ways to reduce our need for crude oil products in future road construction.”
Richardson, CE’71, MS CE’73, PhD CE’84, and Lusher, CE’96, a senior research specialist, are working with Yulex Corp., which develops natural rubber materials from the guayule shrub for use in medical products and green energy production.
The two-year study is funded in part by a national cooperative highway research program called Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis. Other partners include the National University Transportation Center at Missouri S&T and the Missouri Asphalt Pavement Association.

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