Goodyear partnering to develop US-based natural rubber source
The USA has classified natural rubber as a strategic raw material that serves as a critical ingredient in military, aircraft and truck tyres. The country currently relies on rubber imports for its tyre production but wishes to reduce this dependency, and government and military are thus working with private partners to accelerate commercialisation of natural rubber from dandelions. Goodyear Tire & Rubber will play a key role in achieving this goal.
Supported by the US Department of Defense (DoD), the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and DoD-sponsored manufacturing innovation institute BioMADE, Goodyear is working with Ohio-based firm Farmed Materials on a multi-year, multi-million-dollar programme to secure a reliable domestic natural rubber source. The programme will build on research that analysed more than 2,500 species of plants.
A species that has proven to be a valuable alternative to the Pará rubber tree is Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TK), a plant often known as Russian dandelion despite being native to Kazakhstan, Kirghizia and Uzbekistan. Farmed Materials has shown initial positive results in pilot programmes for TK, yielding strong harvests that necessitate the need for additional planting and funding.
Mitigating supply chain challenges
“Global demand for natural rubber continues to grow, and it remains a key raw material for the tyre industry,” says Chris Helsel, senior vice-president global operations and chief technology officer for Goodyear. “This is a critical time to develop a domestic source of natural rubber, which may help mitigate future supply chain challenges.”
“This partnership highlights how BioMADE brings together companies of different sizes to solve critical problems,” adds Melanie Tomczak, chief technology officer at BioMADE. “We’re excited about this project, which holds a lot of promise for domestic rubber production and shows how bioindustrial manufacturing can help secure the domestic supply chain.”
Suited to temperate climates
While rubber trees typically take seven years to produce the latex needed for rubber production, dandelions can be harvested every six months. TK dandelions are also resilient and can grow in more temperate climates.
Backed by the DoD, the collaboration of Goodyear, BioMADE and Farmed Materials will accelerate commercialisation of TK, beginning in the spring of 2022 with the planting and harvesting of TK seeds in Ohio. The resulting natural rubber will be used in the production of military aircraft tyres that Goodyear will build and test under rigorous applications in cooperation with the AFRL at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. If additional testing provides promising results, Goodyear sees potential to use TK rubber in all tyre applications.
Growing interest in TK
Goodyear is not the only tyre maker working with TK. Germany’s Continental is already selling bicycle tyres produced using dandelion rubber under the Taraxagum brand name, whilst Linglong Tire and BKT have also expressed interest in the raw material in recent years.