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Products made from Yulex Corp.'s alternative rubber include mattress foam, a diving shoe and fabric swatches. They were on display at a congressional event that featured bio-based businesses. (Cronkite News photo/Julianne Logan)

WASHINGTON -- In a crowded hearing room that looked more like a science fair than a congressional event, Phoenix-based Yulex Corp., laid out an unusual assortment of products -- a boot, medical supplies, pieces of foam and fabric.

All were made with the company's alternative rubber, manufactured from a desert plant native to the American Southwest and northern Mexico, and all were there as part of a display of "bio-based" manufacturing.

Yulex was one of 35 companies, from 25 states, invited Tuesday by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to show the promise of bio-based manufacturing, which uses crops like soybeans and corn as raw materials instead of petroleum-based chemicals.

"Using biodegradable and renewable materials grown on farms here in the U.S. displaces the need for foreign-based petroleum, and helps to create American jobs," said Stabenow, the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, in a prepared statement on the event. It followed a committee hearing on bio-based manufacturing and job creation.

Yulex's product is different from other biomaterials because it can be used to "meet a variety of consumer, industrial and medical needs while stimulating the economy," said Grant Aldridge, the company's vice president of global commercial agriculture operations.

Aldridge said the product, made from a desert plant called guayule, is also "contributing to a sustainable environment."

"Because guayule is not a food crop and can be grown year-round, it's great for farmers looking to grow alternative, sustainable crops," he said.

Aldridge, who was in Washington for the event, said the product has been used over the last decade in everything from medical equipment to mattress foam to children's toys.

Biorubber is a non-allergenic alternative to traditional rubber that uses a latex-free base extracted from guayule, said Aldridge. It fills a "critical need" for people who should not be exposed to latex-based products, he said.

Currently, the company's only guayule producing farm is located just outside of Phoenix on land owned by the Gila River Indian Community, said Aldridge.

He said the company recently announced a partnership with Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, to create a line of wetsuits.

Calls to Patagonia were not immediately returned Tuesday. But according the company's website, one men's wetsuit, made entirely of "revolutionary Yulex biorubber," has hit hit the market at $479.00.

"It's a great partnership," Aldridge said. "It definitely shows how versatile this material is."

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