A milky-white substance that seeps from dandelion roots is used to produce the sustainable rubber. The substance could potentially find its way into plastic parts in Ford vehicles, including cupholders, floor mats and interior trim.
The potential use of dandelion root as a rubber substitute is another example of Ford's investment in sustainable materials for its vehicles, including soy foam seat cushions, wheat straw-filled plastic for interior trim and recycled blue jeans cotton as sound-dampening material.
"We're always looking for sustainable materials to use in our vehicles that have a smaller carbon footprint to produce and can be grown locally," said Angela Harris, Ford research engineer. "Synthetic rubber is not a sustainable resource, so we want to minimize its use in our vehicles where possible. Dandelions have the potential to serve as a great natural alternative to synthetic rubber in our products."
Not all dandelions are created equal, meaning not all can be used as a sustainable resource for rubber. The suitable species for this project is the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), which is being grown at The Ohio State University's Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). "Managing weed problems is essential to developing TKS as a commercially viable domestic source of natural rubber," said Bill Ravlin, associate director of OARDC.
Ford could potentially use the substance as a plastics modifier, to help improve the impact strength of plastics. "It's strange to see weeds being grown in perfectly manicured rows in a greenhouse, but these dandelions could be the next sustainable material in our vehicles," said Harris.
Before the dandelion-derived rubber can be put to use, Ford researchers will assess the quality of the material to evaluate how it will perform in a variety of plastics that are used in vehicles, and to ensure it meets tough durability standards.
Besides the dandelion, the team is also looking into the use of guayule (a southwestern US shrub) as a natural rubber, which is provided by OARDC and can also be grown domestically.