Soviet Era Technology Resurfaces To Make Eco-Friendly Rubber Out Of Dandelions
Tire manufacturers in Europe are turning to old Soviet methods of rubber cultivation, using what is commonly known as a pesky weed, dandelions, to find more environmentally friendly materials.
In a collaborative effort with the University of Aachen, a major tire company in Germany has developed dandelion-based rubber tires to reduce landfill waste, microplastic pollution, deforestation, and economic problems associated with rubber tree cultivation.
So what's the story behind dandelion rubber?
The concept of “dandelion rubber” was formerly developed by the Soviet Union in their quest for self-sufficiency. After testing of more than 1,000 different specimens, the dandelions growing in Kazakhstan were found to be the best source material.
The world has traditionally used rubber trees, mostly Hevea brasiliensis, from Brazil, however, during World War 2 all the major powers, including both the USSR, US, Germany, and UK, cultivated dandelions to make rubber.
During the post-war era, demand and supply gradually returned to Brazil and eventually to petrochemical tires.
Why dandelion rubber?
There are now dandelion rubber tires produced by Continental Tires called Taraxagum (which is the genus name of the species, Taraxacum). They even won the German Sustainability Award 2021 for their bicycle tires.
“The fact that we came out on top among 54 finalists shows that our Urban Taraxagum bicycle tire is a unique product that contributes to the development of a new, alternative and sustainable supply of raw materials,” said Taraxagum's head of development, Carla Recker.
In some cases, dandelion tires outperformed natural rubber, which is sometimes blended with synthetic rubber. Since dandelion can grow practically anywhere, it needs very little accommodation within a country's agriculture profile. Researchers hypothesize the dandelions could even be grown nearby polluted sites, such as industrial parks.
Further, the only liquid additive required during the rubber extraction process is hot water, as opposed to Hevea, which employs organic solvents that could cause pollution if improperly disposed of.
In addition to providing first-season food for dwindling bee populations, dandelions are also good for making coffee. Dandelions may be fun for blowing apart, but now that can be used for much more and protect the planet too.