Dandelions Could Provide Rubber for Tires

DOD, Goodyear Among Companies Looking to Commercialize Natural Rubber
Taraxacum kok-saghyz
The roots of Taraxacum kok-saghyz. (Farmed Materials)

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A fast-growing, resilient species of dandelion that could serve as a domestic source for natural rubber for tires is the focus of accelerated commercialization backed by the Department of Defense and involving tiremaker Goodyear, BioMADE and Farmed Materials, the parties announced recently.

The program will expand on research that analyzed more than 2,500 species of plants but found only a few with properties suitable for use in tires. One of those, Taraxacum kok-saghyz, a species of dandelion known as TK, has proven to be a valuable alternative to natural rubber trees — and can be harvested every six months for the natural rubber latex in its root. Rubber trees typically take seven years to produce the latex needed for rubber production.

Cincinnati-based Farmed Materials noted it has shown initial positive results in pilot programs for TK, yielding strong harvests, which highlights the need for additional planting and funding. The company described its mission as developing agriculturally derived, high-performance materials.

“Global demand for natural rubber continues to grow, and it remains a key raw material for the tire industry,” Chris Helsel, chief technology officer at Goodyear, said in a release. “This is a critical time to develop a domestic source of natural rubber, which may help mitigate future supply chain challenges.”

Natural rubber has been classified as a strategic raw material that serves as a critical ingredient in military, aircraft and truck tires.

Today, more than 90% of the world’s natural rubber is made from latex derived from rubber trees and is primarily sourced from tropical locations outside of the United States, the release reported.

The flowering Taraxacum kok-saghyz, a species of dandelion known as TK that has proven to be a valuable alternative to natural rubber trees. (Farmed Materials).

The stepped-up commercialization is scheduled to begin this spring with the planting and harvesting of TK seeds in Ohio. The natural rubber produced will be used in the production of military aircraft tires that will be built and tested by Goodyear in cooperation with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

BioMADE is one of nine Department of Defense-sponsored Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, intended to anticipate and close gaps in manufacturing capabilities to realize affordable, timely and low-risk defense systems.

“This partnership highlights how BioMADE brings together companies of different sizes to solve critical problems,” said Melanie Tomczak, chief technology officer at BioMADE.

If additional testing provides promising results, Goodyear noted it sees potential for the application of TK rubber to be used in all tire applications.

This is not the first time dandelions have caught the attention of a tiremaker.

In 2016, Continental Tire said it was researching using dandelion natural rubber as a polymer and “key component” of future tires.

In 2018, the experimental laboratory Taraxagum Lab Anklam was opened in Germany, conducting groundbreaking research into the cultivation and processing of the commonly called Russian dandelions, so named because of their native soil.

Host Michael Freeze discusses the future of tire maintenance with Yokohama's Tom Clauer and Goodyear's Austin Crane and Jessica Julian. Hear a snippet above, and get the full program by going to RoadSigns.TTNews.com.

In 2020, a bicycle tire made of dandelion rubber won a German sustainability award, the company noted, and called it the first serial product made of dandelion rubber.

“Several years ago, we already produced first car and truck prototypes with a tread made from dandelion rubber. These tires hit the roads of Continental’s test tracks, passing with flying colors,” a spokesperson at Continental Tire told Transport Topics. “However, we currently still need sufficient quantities of the material for series production. Therefore, together with our partners from the Fraunhofer Institute and the University of Münster, we are conducting intensive research into the breeding and regional cultivation of Russian dandelion and its scalability. We are confident that in a few years we will also be able to produce and sell car and truck tires in relevant quantities.”

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