Natural rubber is recognized as an essential material for the manufacture of tens of thousands of consumer, medical, and industrial products. There is a need for a rubber crop that will both increase natural rubber production and expand production to new geographies. Edison will use its integrated suite of technologies, including proprietary rubber pathway engineering technology, to increase the levels of rubber production in sunflower, creating a new, commercially viable rubber crop.

The US is dependent on imported natural rubber largely from Southeast Asia, which produces over 90% of the world’s supply. The rubber market is valued at over $50 billion annually split nearly evenly between natural rubber and synthetic rubber. Natural rubber combines high tensile and tear strength with an outstanding resistance to fatigue - characteristics not matched by synthetic materials. 

While the uses of rubber are diverse and span many market segments, consumption of rubber is dominated by tire manufacturers, which consume approximately 70% of the natural rubber produced. The leading tire manufactures have recognized the market dynamics and the significant risks surrounding rubber production. These companies support the development of new rubber crops and have made investments to advance alternative crop development and source rubber from substitute crops.

The major barriers to increasing natural rubber production sufficiently to meet rising demand are the result of fundamental limitations in the current production system. Commercial natural rubber production employs a single crop species (Hevea brasiliensis, Brazilian rubber tree) with a restricted growth range due to its strict environmental requirements with respect to temperature and moisture. Key limitations and vulnerabilities for rubber production in South East Asia include: 

  • susceptibility to disease caused by South American Leaf Blight, a pathogen that eliminated rubber production in Brazil early in the 20th century and remains a global threat today; 
  • long time-frames for crop development through breeding due to low genetic diversity and the extended periods of time (5 years) needed for rubber trees to reach production maturity; and
  • lack of mechanical technologies for rubber harvesting which poses major challenges for this crop; rubber harvesting is entirely dependent on low cost manual labor.

The Edison Agrosciences solution addresses these challenges while taking advantage of this growing market.

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