For most landscapers, dandelions are a scourge to be sprayed or pulled from the ground. Others people might add the greens to a salad or make dandelion wine. But Goodyear has another idea entirely.
It wants to transform the weed into a natural rubber for tires.
Working with the U.S. Department of Defense, the Air Force Research Lab, and BioMADE (Bioindustrial Manufacturing and Design Ecosystem) manufacturing institute, a newly unveiled multi-year and multi-million-dollar project will use a specific species of dandelion to make the rubber.
Today, more than 90% of the world’s natural rubber is made from latex that comes from rubber trees.
Researchers have so far looked at 2,500 different plant species and found a few that had the properties that would work for tires, Goodyear says. Taraxacum kok-saghyz, a species of dandelion known as TK, is one of them.
While it typically takes rubber trees seven years to produce the latex needed to make rubber, dandelions can be harvested every six months, and the TK variety can also grow in climates such as Ohio, where the research will take place.
The required seeds will be planted and harvested this year, with the first tires used for military aircraft and tested at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. If the test results prove promising, Goodyear says it sees potential to use the TK rubber in all tire applications.
“Global demand for natural rubber continues to grow, and it remains a key raw material for the tire industry,” said Chris Helsel, Goodyear’s senior vice-president – global operations and chief technology officer, in a press release.
“This is a critical time to develop a domestic source of natural rubber, which may help mitigate future supply chain challenges.”
The manufacturer committed in 2020 to create a tire from 100% sustainable materials by 2030, and earlier this year it showcased a demonstration tire that included 70% sustainable materials.
That tire included carbon blacks made from methane, carbon dioxide, and plant-based oil; a soybean oil to keep the rubber pliable; silica from rice husk ash; and polyester from plastic bottles and other waste.
Goodyear is not alone in exploring sustainable materials to make tires.
Michelin’s BioButterfly project, for example, is exploring the use of waste wood, rice husks and corn stover to produce butadiene – a key component in the synthetic rubber used to make tires. During last year’s MovinOn summit in Montreal, about half (46%) of the materials used to make a showcased racing tire prototype also came from sustainable sources.
In late 2020 Michelin signed a partnership with Canada’s Pyrowave to produced recycled styrene from things like yogurt pots and food trays. The resulting styrene would be used in synthetic rubber for tires.
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