We all know that children love blowing their seeds into the wind… but now scientists have come up with an even more fascinating use for the dandelion: the plant produces gum elastic – equal in quality to rubber tree latex, which is used to make tyres.
Continental AG in Germany has latched onto these lab results, and the firm is now hard at work investigating the various possibilities for using gum elastic in commercial tyre production.
The discovery is significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, worldwide demand for natural rubber exceeds the supply – with obvious impacts on price. What’s more, a fungal infection threatens the rubber tree. And, as things stand, it would be hard to consider making a tyre without rubber. As Rene Olivier, spokesperson for Continental Tyre in South Africa, confirms: “Rubber makes up much of tyre. Forty one per cent of the ContiPremiumContact 2 passenger tyre, for instance, is rubber.”
It also takes a long time for a rubber tree to grow – whereas the dandelion could yield a useful crop with an extremely short period of time. “The plant needs only one year from seeding to harvest. But setting up a rubber plantation requires roughly five to seven years,” explains Dr Boris Mergell, head of tyre material and process development & Industrialisation at Continental AG.