Japanese tire manufacturer Sumitomo and U.S. biotech company Kultevat launch a joint research project investigating the use of Russian dandelions as an alternative source of natural rubber.
Sumitomo says the aim is to produce environmentally friendly, high-performance products that one day may replace the conventional source of natural rubber, the rubber tree.
It says with global tire demand rising steadily, it wants to reduce the use of fossil resources such as oil and coal that account for about 60% of a conventional tire. “The increased use of sustainable natural resources plays an important role,” Sumitomo says in a statement.
About 90% of natural rubber is produced in Asia. Unlike the rubber tree, the Russian dandelion can be grown in temperate regions, including North America and many other parts of the world.
Sumitomo says it is seeking a more eco-friendly supply due to the environmental consequences of the transportation of rubber, and that’s where Russian dandelions come in as a potential source of high-performance products on a global scale.
The company’s Ensave 100 tire, launched in 2013, was the world’s first tire manufactured from 100% natural raw materials without the use of fossil fuels.
Kultevat serves sustainable agricultural markets, primarily through the production of rubber as well as sugar-based feedstock for the biofuel market. It has experience in the commercial use of plant materials viable for the development of sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of rubber.
This is not the first attempt to manufacture rubber derived from dandelions.
Continental last year began producing test tires made with rubber derived from the latex of dandelion roots. The winter passenger-car tires’ treads were made with Taraxagum, the automotive supplier’s name for the material. Serial production could begin within 10 years, according to Continental.
Ford in 2010 announced it was working with Ohio State University to study the Russian dandelion’s potential as a source of synthetic rubber used to improve the impact strength of plastics in components such as cupholders, floormats and interior trim.