Dandelions are a key component to the future of tires.
Continental has been conducting research into replacing natural rubber from the tropics with plants which can be grown at moderate climates since 2011 in collaboration with: the Fraunhofer Institute IME in Münster, the Julius Kühn-Institute in Quedlinburg, the plant breeder ESKUSA in Parkstetten and other partners in various research projects with support from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as well as the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.
The collaboration saw Continental Tire produce and test the first tires where the tread is made 100% out of dandelion natural rubber as a polymer. The team at Continental Tire looks to the dandelion as an alternative source of natural rubber. But it’s not using just any dandelion – the Russian dandelion has been tapped as the dandelion of choice.
The Russian dandelion plant is a larger, more robust variant that can be produced in mass quantities. The plant also thrives in a large part of the world and can be cultivated on land not suitable for food production. This is an advantage over rubber trees, which require a hot, damp climate and only grow in a small area of the world. A dandelion also has a one-year growth period whereas the rubber tree has a seven-year life cycle.
The roots of the Russian dandelion contain the natural rubber latex (the source for natural rubber in tires) which means that the supply will be steadier and easier to control, leading to greater price stability.
“In agricultural terms, dandelions are an undemanding plant, growing in moderate climates, even in the northern hemisphere, and can be cultivated on land not suitable for food production,” according to Dr. Carla Recker, who heads the Continental team involved in the development of this super material. “This means that rubber production is conceivable near our tire factories, for instance, and the significantly shorter transport routes would also reduce CO2 emissions.”
Continental’s long-term goal is to find an ecologically and socially viable solution for the increasing demand for natural rubber – and it’s right around the corner.
In fact, Continental has officially inaugurated its research laboratory named “Taraxagum Lab Anklam” in Anklam, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Germany.
It is set as a base for future research on farming and the extraction process of the Russian dandelion as an alternative raw material source to the rubber tree in the tropics. The tire manufacturer is planning to introduce the raw material into serial production within 10 years, in order to obtain an increasing proportion of its natural rubber demand from the dandelion plant.
So is the Russian dandelion the future of tires? We think so.