When most Westerners see plentiful dandelions, they see a landscaping problem and usually the need for an unpleasant seasonal task: weeding. However, there may be a new reason to transform our conception of the dandelion. What was once a frustration for gardeners may be better seen as a potential cash crop and sustainable solution for rubber production.
The Infamous Weed Yields Major Value
Scientists have now gotten closer to yielding natural, tire-grade rubber particles from the taproots of a certain species of dandelion found in Kazakhstan. Tire companies are now continuing to back research with millions, in the hopes that this often maligned little weed could amount to rubber yields that are comparable to rubber tree plantations now mostly found in Southeast Asia.
A New Source For A Volatile Market
We’re already long overdue for an affordable, easily sustainable, high yield source of rubber. Demand for natural rubber increases with every tire needed on cars, bikes, trucks, and planes, but fungi and other issues affecting rubber trees have put supply of the material in question. Tire companies like Bridgestone Corp. and Continental AG, and the scientists they’re funding, hope to breed modified dandelions as a new natural rubber source right here in the U.S. and in Europe.
Rubber On A Cash Crop Scale
While research into rubber production and dandelions has been happening for years, scientists have recently identified at least two key components of rubber biosynthesis through the milky fluid found within dandelion taproot. Scientists are now working on isolating the protein the makes the natural rubber production possible and hopefully will find a way to successfully accomplish rubber synthesis on a cash crop scale.
A Few Modifications Needed
The rubber-producing breed of dandelion may also be modified to grow considerably larger than the weeds you’ll find on your lawn, and with leaves that grow upright, so they can be mechanically harvested with ease. Additionally, dandelions could be a favorable source for rubber since they’re not especially picky about soil—unlike sensitive rubber trees. Their ability to thrive in poor planting conditions opens up a lot of possibility for crop locations and assures some resistance against the impact of climate change and the volatility that comes from foreign material supply.
It may not be all that long before your next car contains rubber from a whole new natural source. Would you have guessed that dandelions could be the source of such a valuable material? Tell us your thoughts on this development in the comments.