A German research consortium is building a pilot factory to mass-produce rubber from dandelion to manufacture tyres.
Believing to be on the way towards a major breakthrough in rubber production, the team is now developing production processes to enable commercial use of dandelion rubber in the automotive industry.
The experimental facility, producing dandelion rubber in large quantities, has recently been opened in Munster, Germany.
Working together with a tyre manufacturer Continental, the researchers are cultivating dandelion varieties rich in rubber, trying to optimise the raw material content in the yield to make the process more efficient.
“Through the most modern cultivation methods and optimisation of systems technology, we have succeeded in manufacturing high-grade natural rubber from dandelions – in the laboratory,” said Professor Rainer Fischer, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
“The time is now right to move this technology from the pilot project-scale to the industrial scale. We have found an expert partner in Continental, with whom we now want to create tyres that are ready for production,” he said.
The dandelion rubber is said to be more resistant to weather conditions than conventional rubber extracted from the rubber tree.Unlike the rubber tree, imported from sub-tropical countries, dandelion can be grown basically anywhere in Europe, in the proximity of tyre factories, cutting transportation costs and simplifying logistics.
“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 tyre production over the long term,” says Nikolai Setzer, the Continental managing director responsible for the tyres division. “Based on its agricultural modesty, it holds entirely new potential – especially for cropland that is lying fallow today,” he said.
Professor Dirk Prüfer, from the Fraunhofer Institute, said: “We have amassed tremendous expertise in dandelion harvesting over the last few years. With the aid of DNA markers, we now know which gene is responsible for which molecular feature.This makes it possible to cultivate especially high-yield plants much more efficiently.”
Continental would like to test the first dandelion tyres in real traffic conditions within the next five years.