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Resin From Guayule?
By Marcia Wood
April 17, 2002
Plywoodlike boards made from a desert
shrub called guayule might shrug off attack by voracious termites and wood-rot
microbes. Preliminary results from Agricultural Research Service scientists and
their colleagues show that guayule leftovers can be formed into durable,
versatile substitutes for today's conventional plywood and particle board.
Research chemist Francis S. Nakayama, with ARS'
U.S. Water Conservation
Laboratory in Phoenix, Ariz., leads these experiments.
With its silvery, grayish-green leaves and yellow flowers,
guayule--pronounced why-YOU-lee--somewhat resembles sagebrush. Hardy and
drought resistant, guayule is native to the Chihuahuan Desert of the
southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
In tests, the scientists combined components of guayule plants with the
whitish, translucent plastic of recycled milk or water containers. This yielded
a composite material that resists costly insect and microbial damage, according
to Nakayama. Guayule composite board might replace many kinds of wood that
today are used in floor, wall and roof construction in homes and offices.
Nakayama's colleagues made guayule components into prototype composite
boards at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory at Madison, Wis., for testing
there and at the University of Illinois,
Urbana. Their examinations showed that guayule boards made with high-density
polyethylene from melted-down milk containers best withstood attacks by common
termites and wood-rot microorganisms.
In addition, guayule leftovers can be processed into resin for protecting
wooden buildings, boats, decks and outdoor furniture. Nakayama and colleagues
found that pine blocks impregnated with guayule resin resisted termite and
wood-rot damage. Earlier, U.S. Navy investigations of candidate preservatives
for wooden piers indicated that guayule resin thwarted several types of
termites and marine borers.
The guayule composite board and resin studies focus on using the
brownish-white slurry that remains after guayule stems and leaves are ground up
to remove their latex. Work by plant physiologist Katrina Cornish at ARS'
Western Regional Research Center in
Albany, Calif., has shown that guayule latex is hypoallergenic, and thus ideal
for making medical and personal products such as surgical gloves, catheters and
Details are in the April 2002 issue of the agency's Agricultural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.