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DOD Funds Natural Rubber Alternative Research

If successful, it could be dandy for the auto industry and that’s no lyin'
By Leo Shvedsky
April 14 2022
Embracing the flower as the key to the future of tires. (Shutterstock) 

More often than not these days, when most people think of cars, they think about the horsepower the engine produces, the safety of the overall build, or whether the Apple Play in the infotainment system is wireless. But one of the last things most think about, except maybe as an aesthetic consideration, is the tires.  

That’s a shame because tires are the only thing on the car that actually touch the asphalt and help make the car … well, go. But lately tire prices have been spiking, and now some say that prices have risen by around 20% over the last year.  

Some of the reasons for this are, of course, related to the pandemic, but also to the rising prices and demand for natural rubber, made from plants, which makes up more than 30% of car tires. Methods to alleviate the shortage are underway and one of them is to produce rubber from dandelion roots.  

Goodyear, the venerable tire manufacturer, has recently received a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a sustainable solution to the rubber shortage crisis. 

Dandelion roots are measure for their viability in rubber producing process. (Motortrend)  

The move comes in an effort to reduce the pressure on current natural rubber producing techniques. Rubber trees, the source of all natural rubber these days, take seven years to produce a yield. Rubber produced from dandelion roots, however, can be harvested every six months according to researchers.

The idea of developing an alternative and sustainable rubber source has actually been ongoing for quite some time. Trying to find a viable alternative has seen testing on more than 2,500 plants before the dandelion version of the substance, dubbed Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TK), proved to be the best contender. Hence the DOD’s investment in further development.  

The advantage of the dandelion is that it’s a plant omnipresent in North America. Rubber trees are local to wetter environments such as rain forests in Southeast Asia, home to many rubber plantations. No natural rubber plants, however, are grown in the U.S. If dandelions or some other natural or synthetic could become the primary source for rubber, then the industry could substitute it to cut costs, which may also trickle down to the customer.  

The military’s involvement in development of cutting-edge car technology is also nothing new. The Global Positioning System (GPS) that allows our cars to find the fastest route to work or the closest sushi place comes from the U.S. military. Even the idea of an all-terrain vehicle, which has led to the SUV, was something the military funded the auto industry to produce. Think the original Jeep.  

Ultimately, this could be great news for both the planet and consumers.  




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