- Continental Tire and the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) team up for alternative rubber project
- Dandelion flower roots are being used in the pilot stages for rubber tire use
- Dandelion roots are far less weather-dependent than production from rubber trees
- The pilot facility is located in Munster, Germany
We often hear about alternative forms of fuel to run our gasoline hungry automobiles. But what about an alternative form of rubber for our tires? Continental and Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) in Aachen (Germany), are working together to come up with a new breakthrough development in the usage of materials for tires: dandelions. Yes, those pretty little flowers that take over your backyard that you can never get rid of.
The roots of the flower are being used in this state-of-the-art project. The pilot facility in Munster, Germany is the site of the new project where natural rubber is produced by the ton. This plant has the potential to be a modern crop in Europe, but it is still in the pilot phase where it is being determined whether or not the plant can be grown on previously uncultivated land.
"We are investing in this promising material development and production project because we are convinced that it will enable us to further improve our tire production in the long run," said Nikolai Setzer, who is responsible for the tire division within Continental's Executive Board. "This is because the production of rubber from dandelion roots is far less weather-dependent than production from rubber trees. Furthermore, the new system is so undemanding in terms of agricultural requirements that it opens up a whole new potential - particularly for areas of land that are currently uncultivated. By growing the crops much closer to our production sites, we would also be able to significantly reduce the burden on the environment and our outlay for logistics. This development project shows impressively that we have by no means reached the end of the line in terms of our possibilities for material development." The first test tires featuring rubber compounds made from dandelion rubber are already set to be tested on public roads in the coming years."
"We have built up a great deal of expertise in the field of dandelion cultivation in recent years," explains project manager professor Dirk Prüfer, looking back at the work carried out at the Münster site of the IME. "Thanks to DNA marker technology, we now know which gene is responsible for which molecular property. This enables us to grow particularly high-yield plants much more efficiently. This had been preceded by several years of research activities, as part of which the scientists were able to prove that the rubber produced from the dandelion plants they had grown themselves not only offers the same quality as its counterpart from the rubber tree, but that this new variant is actually more robust and offers a higher yield."
"With this dandelion project, we are taking a huge step forward on the path to our long-term goal of manufacturing tires for cars, trucks and bicycles, as well as specialist tires, completely without any fossil materials," explains Dr. Boris Mergell, who looks after the cooperation project as the head of Material and Process Development for Tires at Continental. "If we can successfully manage to produce large amounts of dandelion rubber with at least equivalent performance properties to conventional rubber harvested from rubber trees, then we will be able to put ourselves in a position where we are much less dependent on the annual harvest situation in the subtropical growing regions. However, the decision on where in Europe such large-scale cultivation of the specially grown dandelion is going to take place has not yet been made."
This may seem wild or far-fetched to those who think of tires as being made from just rubber. But did we ever think we would see the day when we could fill our tanks with vegetable oil? This will definitely be something to watch.