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Dandelion-rubber pilot scheme

Hailed as a significant milestone on the path to rubber procurement in Europe, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME are outlining the basis of a pilot scheme that will ultimately see dandelion rubber harvested in vast quantities.

The concept of extracting rubber from dandelion latex sap has been around for several years. In this time, however, the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME has optimized the cultivation and production engineering, for mass dandelion rubber extraction.

Following this perfected methodology, molecular biologists at IME and the research department of Continental have built a pilot facility in Münster, Germany, that is capable of producing natural rubber by the ton.

At the same time, they cultivate several hectares of a Russian dandelion variety that is particularly rich in rubber. To optimize the raw material content and the properties of the blossom, the researchers concurrently grew new varieties with a higher proportion of rubber and biomass yield. The first prototype test tires, made with blends from dandelion-rubber, are to be tested on public roads over the coming years. The natural product obtained in this manner exhibited the same quality as the conventional rubber from rubber trees that has been imported from subtropical countries and used in tire production. However unlike the conventional rubber, it could be harvested more cost-effectively, better cultivated and grown in Germany as a sustainable raw material - even on land areas not previously suited for agricultural crops.

“We are investing in this highly promising materials development and production project because we are certain that in this way we can further improve our tire production over the long term,” says Nikolai Setzer, responsible for the Tire Division at Continental. “It’s because the rubber extraction from the dandelion root is markedly less affected by weather than the rubber obtained from the rubber tree. Based on its agricultural modesty, it holds entirely new potential – especially for cropland that is lying fallow today. Since we can grow it in much closer proximity to our production sites, we can further reduce both the environmental impact as well as our logistics costs by a substantial margin. This development project impressively demonstrates that, with regard to material development, we have not reached the end of our potential.”

Read a full interview with Nikolai Setzer in the latest issue of Tire Technology International.


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