A collaborative research project exploring sustainable tires from dandelion has been nominated for Germany’s Federal President’s Award.
The project – with a team that includes Carla Recker, head of the Expertfield Materials Chemistry at Continental Tires; Dirk Prüfer of the University of Münster; and Christian Schulze Gronover from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME – began in 2011 and has explored the extraction of natural rubber from regionally grown Russian dandelions as an alternative to procuring rubber from tropical regions many thousands of miles away.
“The protection of our tropical forest is a top priority in the fight against climate change,” explained Dirk Prüfer, professor of plant biotechnology at the University of Münster. “For this reason, the natural rubber processing industry also needs to rethink. Our approach to sustainably gaining natural rubber from dandelions can counteract many socioeconomic and ecological challenges in these regions.
“The extraction of natural rubber from dandelions allows raw materials to be produced close to Continental’s tire mills. This also makes it possible to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by long transport routes.”
However, the project did throw up a challenge for the collaboration when it came to establishing the dandelion as a raw material source that was capable of cultivation on a mass scale.
“Through consistent, knowledge-based action and with modern analytics, we have worked with a plant breeder to establish high-yielding and hardy plants from wild Russian dandelion,” explained Christian Schulze Gronover, head of research, Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME, Münster. “We have also developed an environmentally friendly process for extracting rubber from the roots of the plants.”
Having established a process to extract the rubber, Continental has gone on to make its first series-produced bicycle tire made from the dandelion rubber, the Urban Taraxagum.
“The industrialization of the cultivation of dandelion rubber is the goal of our long-term project, where the key to success is mutual trust and perseverance,” added Recker. “The Urban Taraxagum shows that marketable products made of natural rubber from the dandelion plant are possible.”