Dandelion Tires Give New Meaning To Flower Power
Dandelions have already been more generous to humans than we ingrates deserve. In spite of the fact that most of us are always trying to annihilate dandelions from our yards, these spontaneously-occurring weeds are actually cultivated in many areas of the world where the dandelion is considered extremely beneficial to human and animal health. Now scientists have found that the small yellow flower is also a source of rubber, and two German companies have partnered to establish a pilot program to cultivate the flowers and manufacture tires from their rubber.
Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME is in the process of developing one of the largest dandelion farms in the world, after identifying a particular Russian variety of the flower that is rich in rubber and then modifying its DNA in its laboratories to produce even more biomass. Continental Tire has partnered with IME to build a pilot facility that will produce dandelion rubber by the ton and, within the next few years, tires made from a rubber blend - dandelion and tree rubbers - will be road-tested.
The attraction to dandelions as a source for rubber is significant, as dandelions can be grown in Germany on land that is suitable for little else agriculturally. Dandelions are ready to harvest within one year, much sooner than a harvest of rubber trees, and dandelion growth is not as adversely affected by weather as are rubber trees. Dandelion rubber has been tested and is just as strong as tree rubber.
The proximity of the rubber resources to Continental's tire plant reduces the company's logistics and manufacturing costs significantly.
“With this new technology, we can achieve a sustainable edge for the German automotive market. On the one hand, it makes the domestic economy less dependent on the importing of raw materials. On the other hand, it reduces the transportation routes, and thus improves the CO2 balance,” said engineer Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.