Dandelion rubber “of great interest” to Continental
Continental says it has “latched onto” results of a university study into the latex properties inherent in dandelions. A research team at the University of Münster subjected the Asteraceae family flower to a number of lab tests and observed they produce a gum elastic equal in quality to rubber tree latex. Since learning of this discovery Continental reports working hard to promote the idea, and today is a member of a consortium of research institutes and research partners who intend to transform the research results into market products.
“The first research results clearly show Russian dandelions to produce a high-quality natural rubber,” confirms Dr. Dirk Prüfer, professor at the Institute for Plant Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Münster. “Its physical and chemical properties match up well with those of the Brazilian rubber tree. But growers would have to plant dandelions on a large scale if industry is to be able to use them to produce natural rubber.” Prüfer explains that the university team’s biochemists have found the enzyme that governs polymerisation of the plant’s latex and have managed to ‘switch off’ this enzyme to enable the latex to flow freely and be siphoned off. “That is a major step forward,” he comments.
According to Continental, researchers opine that dandelions could in the future supply a tenth of the rubber demand in its home market of Germany. “This project is of great interest to material development,” states Dr. Boris Mergell, head of Tire Material and Process Development & Industrialization at Continental. “Success in making dandelions a source of natural rubber would enable us to respond at rather short notice to supply shifts. After all, the plant needs only one year from seeding to harvest. From the cutting of the first sod to the harvesting of the latex, setting up a run-of-the-mill rubber plantation requires roughly five to seven years.”