Green Tech: Tires Made From Dandelions Replace Rubber

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Dandelions could be used for tire rubber [Image: Flickr user jolly_janner]

Dandelions could be used for tire rubber [Image: Flickr user jolly_janner]

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It isn't just fossil fuels that are a finite resource--rubber is another substance in high demand, and short supply.

The latest estimates suggest that global demand for rubber is expected to outstrip supply by 20 percent, by 2020.

That will inevitably lead to raised prices--bad news, considering just how many items made of rubber we used day-to-day. Tires, being a significant one.

Dutch scientists and a common garden weed may be along to help, according to CNN. The scientists work at biotech firm KeyGene, and the weed is the humble dandelion, whose roots contain latex--a natural rubber.

It isn't the first time a company has looked into dandelions as a source of rubber, nor other natural sources--orange peel has previously been suggested. But as the need becomes more pressing, it's gone back on the agenda.

Dandelion roots aren't really sufficient for the quantities of rubber required to meet global demand, so KeyGene is putting it through a process of 'plant phenotyping'. Using DNA profiling of types that exhibit favorable characteristics, the team is crossing different breeds of dandelion to grow a breed with a fatter root. This larger root is better suited to the quantities of latex required.

Tire company Apollo Vredestein is collaborating on the project, and says prototype tires have already been produced.

If continuing trials are successful and large enough quantities of the plant are grown, the tires could be ready for full-scale production in as little as five to ten years--just in time to meet demand.

KeyGene's techniques could also result in improvements in crop yields. While there is resistance to genetic modification, the company says its technique is more "genetic improvement"--speeding up the evolution process to develop crops with a higher yield and resistance to pests.

That could prove invaluable for another green issue--biofuels--as world population grows and the food versus fuel debate intensifies.


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Comments (4)
  1. I wonder about the concept of demand for rubber outstripping supply. Car tires are made from artificial rubber mainly synthesised from petroleum byproducts. Obviously oil is running out but the high gas prices that come with that should negatively affect the demand for car tires as less cars are sold and less miles are driven.

    Seems to me that the whole system has an automatic equilibrium, unless the industry moves away from fossil fuels on a massive scale but so far there is little evidence of that.

  2. I wish someone could find a use for the invasive Chilean Pepper Tree.

  3. Some people call them "common garden weeds" but the Italians called them "salad" when they introduced them to America :-)

  4. Actually you can eat it. With the leafs you can make very tasty omelettes with or you can give them in the pan with little olive oil garlic and chili pepper.

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