Bridgestone, the tire manufacturer, is scrutinizing the performance of natural rubber extracted from the taproots of the Russian Dandelion, with the goal of finding a new, commercially viable, sustainable source of rubber to meet the world’s growing demand.
Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations is one of several collaborators participating in the Russian Dandelion project, lead by the Ohio State University’s Program for Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives (PENRA), according to a press release from Bridgestone. Bridgestone’s subsidiaries will conduct additional testing on natural rubber harvested from the dandelion at their laboratories in Akron, Ohio, and Tokyo this summer, with larger scale testing to follow in 2014.
“We know that there are more than 1,200 types of plants from which natural rubber could in theory be harvested, but finding one that could practically produce the quality and amount of rubber needed to meet the demands of today’s tire market is a challenge,’ says Dr. Hiroshi Mouri, president, Bridgestone Americas Center for Research and Technology. “Bridgestone continues to dedicate substantial resources to finding sustainable alternatives for the natural rubber needed to manufacture tires and other high-quality rubber products, and we’re excited about this potentially game-changing discovery with the Russian Dandelion.”
The Brazilian Rubber Tree, Hevea brasiliensis (Hevea), grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, is the only commercial natural rubber source in the world, according to PENRA. Natural rubber supplies are becoming increasingly unstable because of rapid growth in China and India, decline in rubber production because of industrialization in Southeast Asia, and increasing use of natural rubber by former Soviet Bloc countries.
The Russian dandelion has been a known source of rubber since the 1930s, when the Soviet Union discovered it in Kazakhstan in 1932, reports Gizmag. At the time, the Soviet Union was trying to find a domestic source of rubber because supplies of Hevea were threatened. However, when the latter became affordable again after World War II ended, the Russian dandelion programs were discontinued.
But the Russian dandelion has attracted interest again because of increasing demand for rubber. Manufacturers want to find sustainable supplies and boost the car industry’s green credentials.
North America consumes 2.7 billion pounds of natural rubber, of which 80% is used in tires, PENRA says. Natural rubber is essential for the U.S. economy and national security because it provides performance characteristics not found in synthetic, petroleum-derived rubber. Trucking, construction, and aviation tires require a high percentage of natural rubber to meet performance characteristics. Aircraft tires require nearly 100% natural rubber to meet heat tolerance and required adhesion specifications.
The Bridgestone announcement follows a development in March 2012 in which the company outlined a project to research and develop Guayule, a shrub native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, as an alternative to natural rubber harvested from Hevea trees. In the latter project, Bridgestone Americas is establishing a pilot farm and constructing a rubber process research center in the southwestern United States. The Russian Dandelion and Guayule have almost identical qualities compared to natural rubber harvested from Hevea trees.
Source: “Bridgestone Finds Russian Dandelion May Be a Sustainable Source of Natural Rubber,” Bridgestone, 5/17/12
Source: “The PENRA Story,” The Ohio State University, undated
Source: “Bridgestone Tests Russian Dandelion as Raw Material for Tire Rubber,” Gizmag, 6/20/12
Image by ILoyna, used under its Creative Commons license
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.