Patagonia has partnered with clean technology company Yulex Corporation to create a wetsuit material made from plant-based renewable biorubber, the world's first alternative to traditional fossil-based neoprene. By nature of its production, neoprene is the most environmentally harmful part of creating a wetsuit. For years, Patagonia has looked at ways of cutting down on the amount of neoprene used in their wetsuits. The company has now found a viable solution.
For numerous years, Yulex has turned to guayule, a renewable, non-food crop, as a biorubber supply for over 300 medical products that require the use of rubber. Many people are allergic to traditional rubber from rubber trees, such as that used in latex gloves, but guayule rubber does not seem to produce an allergic response, potentially due to the existence of fewer proteins.
Guayule, a native shrub to areas such as Texas and New Mexico, requires very little water, uses no pesticides, and in comparison to traditional neoprene, has a very clean manufacturing process. To process guayule for rubber, the plant has to be ground up as the rubber comes from the bark. The resin can be used to treat wood, and the leftover pulp can be used for composite boards or as an energy source, such as in fire logs, briquettes and fuel pellets.
The new Patagonia wetsuits will be made from 60% guayule rubber, with a goal to have the material formula eventually 100% plant based. The plant-based wetsuits are said to be 30% stretchier, dry instantly, and boast a high thermal value.
Patagonia hopes other brands will jump on board and help innovate and implement more environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional neoprene. By Spring 2013, all you surfers will be able to order custom wetsuits from Patagonia made from the new plant-based material.