Ford Motor Co. is looking into a new natural source for creating alternatives to synthetic rubber. With the help of Ohio State University, researchers are growing dandelions in greenhouses to be harvested for their roots, or more specifically, for the milky-white liquid that drips from the root. This latex-like liquid is the key to creating a renewable natural rubber source right here in America.
A Renewable Natural resource
Ford hopes to use this new flower power as an impact strength modifier in rubber and plastic parts such as floor mats, cupholders, dash components and interior trim. Before the dandelion can be used in production parts, however, Ford and other project partners will assess the quality of the plastics to their tough durability standards. If the tests prove the material worthy, the dandelion could become a great renewable resource for a company with a long track record of reuse and renew policies.
Though the dandelion grows wild, don’t harvest the crop in your front yard just yet. Not all dandelions are road worthy. The only dandelion so far found to produce the potent ingredient is the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS). Chances are the dandelions on your front lawn are not a cash crop.
Partners in Science
More companies than just Ford would benefit from the advance. Other companies involved in the project, such as Bridgestone Firestone North American Tire and Cooper Tire & Rubber believe that the new technology could avert a major crisis in the availability of natural rubber.
A Natural Choice
Currently, America’s largest source for natural rubber is Malaysian rubber trees. Decline in the supply of Malaysian rubber trees has led many to the conclusion that a renewable, locally produced alternative would be prudent. Seeds from Kazakhstan have created a crop that OSU researchers say is capable of resisting insects, disease and varying temperatures. If those involved are correct, dandelions could be the new choice for natural rubbers for everything from seat covers to aircraft tires.
For now the possible natural rubber project is in testing, but researchers with the project envision a near future where dandelions become a rotation crop with American farmers, just as corn and soybeans are today. Imagine a trip through America’s heartland with fields of yellow, covered in what was once only known as a suburban nuisance, now becoming the very tires that carry us across the great American landscape.