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Dandelion Rubber

Research being carried out in the United States and Europe is looking into whether the humble dandelion can provide a sustainable alternative to the Hevea tree in the manufacture of rubber for tyres and other items.

Led by research director Katrina Cornish, American researchers at the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Ohio are cultivating a special type of dandelion, the Taraxacum Kok-saghyz.

Although it resembles the wild dandelions that grow as weeds, its roots contain between 10% and 15% natural rubber. Initial research has revealed that the quality and performance of dandelion rubber are almost identical to traditional rubber taken from the trees cultivated in Asia.

Further research is necessary in order to turn dandelions into an industrial rubber crop and scientists are investigating how to make them easy to grow, while producing a higher yield.

American research is supported by a number of European companies and researchers, who are also experimenting with how to improve the plants and the processing technology. The researchers have one goal: to find a non-tropical alternative to the Hevea tree.


© Swetlana Wall / Adobe Stock



Trying to find an alternative to the rubber tree is nothing new. People have been searching for an alternative since the time of American business magnate Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, who revolutionised vehicle production in the early 20th century with his mass production techniques.

His production line technology led to the Ford Motor Company churning out one Model T car every 24 seconds, with the associated rubber usage for tyres. Today, with more than one billion tyres manufactured worldwide every year, the industry is the largest major user of natural rubber. Around 70% of the world's rubber production is used to manufacture tyres.

Plants investigated as an alternative to the Hevea tree have included dandelions, sunflowers and goldenrod. People have been looking for another option since war, disease or bad weather have left natural rubber in short supply, thus pushing up the price. To date, no new crop has gained a foothold in the market, but support for dandelion rubber is growing.


Taraxacum Kok-saghyz

The Taraxacum Kok-saghyz dandelion was first found in Kazakhstan in 1931 and was viewed as a means of ending Russia's dependence on imported rubber - they began cultivation. The Second World War saw the cultivation of the dandelion increase further after the Japanese seized the Asian rubber plantations.

Germany and the United States also began farming the dandelion to extract rubber. However, it wasn't used on a massive scale and once the war was over, research into the dandelion stopped when rubber trees were made available again.

Research began again in the 21st century, after concerns about the price and sustainability of rubber prompted scientists to revisit dandelion rubber. Katrina Cornish, who's leading the US research, admits it isn't an easy task establishing dandelion rubber as a viable alternative.

She says historically, crops have taken thousands of years to become established, so the scientists are working to compress the timescale into a viable one to ascertain whether dandelion rubber can be a serious option.

It's a tall order to establish a dandelion rubber crop with the necessary traits to provide a good yield. First, they mustn't cross-pollinate with native plants and secondly, they should be able to resist disease and withstand pest and weed control.

The dandelion has a lot of genes that scientists can work with and they are using gene-modifying techniques, including CRISPR/Cas9, to help speed the process up.



One of the main issues with the trees growing on rubber plantations is that they take many years to mature, so rubber production currently can't respond quickly to a change in demand. There are fears that any growing demand for rubber in the Asian market will lead to the destruction of the rainforest to expand rubber tree plantations - something environmental campaigners wish to avoid at all costs.

Although producing rubber from dandelions is doable technically, proving the crop has commercial potential is a new challenge. Up to 15% of the dandelion is rubber, so scientists are aiming to ascertain if the waste can be used in any by-product applications. Some of the waste is a polysaccharide called inulin - a product used in dietary fibre.

Cornish says that gene editing can make it possible to increase the plant's rubber content. Now her goal is modifying the genes to make the dandelion resistant to herbicides.

Further research being undertaken at Wageningen University in the Netherlands is aimed at creating thicker roots to increase the amount of rubber produced by each plant. Currently, a crop of the dandelions would produce 200kg of rubber per hectare.


Dandelion rubber benefits

Early research has indicated that dandelion rubber tyres may be more durable than those made from traditional rubber, as the dandelion latex may have a better grip on wet roads.

Rubber is also required for many other applications, including tubing for medical purposes, surgical gloves, roofing, wall cladding, adhesives, sealants and industrial coatings. In total, some 40,000 products are manufactured using natural rubber.

The fact that dandelions produce both latex and inulin has made the product attractive economically. In addition, it can be grown in northern regions, so it will thrive in colder climes.

Early indications show that dandelion rubber is high quality and potentially sustainable. The harvest could be automated and it could meet sudden increases in demand quicker than rubber trees.

Currently, however, other factors must be investigated further, as the cost of production is unknown, as is the possible impact of pests and diseases. A huge volume of dandelions would be required for use in tyre production and as yet, there's no government support for farmers.

Despite these unknown variables, scientists are quietly hopeful that they may be on to a winner with dandelion rubber, as research continues.

Coruba stocks a wide variety of high-quality rubber products, including rubber safety matting, for many sectors and applications. Give us a call on 01702 560194 or email info@coruba.co.uk for further information on our range of rubber products, which also includes rubber gaskets and seals, rubber mouldings, rubber extrusions and more.

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