BKT partnering with Kultevat on dandelion rubber development

Instead of just finding dandelions growing in fields, we may soon also find them in the tyres of tractors and other agricultural vehicles that traverse these fields. Balkrishna Industries Limited (BKT) sees a future for these plants as a material within the tyres it makes; it recently entered into a joint research agreement with US biotechnology company Kultevat, Inc. to develop new compounding methods based on TKS/Russian dandelion rubber, with the aim of integrating these into its tyre manufacturing process.

BKT anticipates that alternative raw materials will gradually replace or reduce the use of natural rubber sourced from Hevea brasiliensis, and its agreement with Kultevat follows tests made on a range of solutions, mostly with guayule and dandelion rubber. The company opted for dandelion as it has a higher latex content and it grows year-round, even in moderate climates.

The agreement’s first project stage will result in several sample deliveries this year. Moving forwards, the second stage will involve the supply of one tonne of stabilised TKS rubber to BKT by October 2019. The tyre maker will then conduct a series of studies, analyses and tests at its recently inaugurated R&D centre in India, the Suresh Poddar Innovation Hub.

Once it has gained a level of understanding of the new raw material’s physical and chemical behaviour and has developed initial compounding methods, BKT will conduct more specific analyses and tests to learn about specific performance criteria, such as how TKS rubber responds when exposed to mechanical stress; fatigue resistance; tensile strength; durability and resilience; cut, tear and heat resistance. A range of formulations will be tested within tyres for various applications. The tyre maker believes the path from here to a finished product will be a long and challenging one.

“Kultevat’s commercialisation strategy calls for the company to sell into specialty rubber markets at the outset while the company continues working with BKT to develop products for their purposes,” says Daniel R. Swiger, chief executive officer of Kultevat. “We have engaged a number of customers and are currently growing TKS for processing and rubber for prototype and testing purposes. We expect commercial sales of rubber beginning 2019.” Swiger adds that BKT is an “ideal global partner” for Kultevat thanks to its strong position within the global off-highway tyre business. “This will improve on our ability to rapidly scale and commercialise.”

“BKT has always been committed to innovation, allotting requisite amounts regularly to research and development, since we consider these investments the key to success for competing in a complex global market with rapidly evolving needs,” states Dilip Vaidya, president and director of technology at BKT. “The agreement with Kultevat for TKS rubber is a great step forward in our R&D activities in terms of both sustainability and innovation. This project is fully in line with the goals expressed in our R&D mission: To research and develop cutting-edge materials technologies to support future BKT business challenges in terms of innovative product technology.”

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