Ford’s Venture Into Plastics From Weeds

Future Ford vehicles may have plastics made from dandelions
Future Ford vehicles may have plastics made from dandelions.

It looks like researchers are searching far and wide for petroleum substitutes for manufacturing plastics. There were the chicken-feather example and the fruit one. Now the automaker Ford says it will use dandelions, the bane of many a pristine lawn, to get plastic additives.

According to Sebastian Blanco who writes for The New York Times blog, Wheels:

Developed in collaboration with Ohio State University, the project harnesses the scourge of lawn tenders worldwide, Taraxacum kok-saghyz, commonly called the Russian dandelion, to produce a versatile, milky-white substance that can be used as a plastics modifier. The substance, Ford said, could find application in cup holders, floor mats and interior trim pieces, replacing synthetic rubber commonly used in these applications.

While rubber does literally grow on trees, synthetic rubber is a petroleum product, and even if all the rubber Ford used were sustainably grown, it still would be cleaner to produce plastic from locally sourced dandelions because shipping would be minimized.

Before you call Ford headquarters to have them send over employees to weed dandelions from your lawn, according a press release from the company, not all dandelions can be used to make plastics:

Not all dandelions are created equal, meaning not all can be used as a sustainable resource for rubber. The suitable species for this project is the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), which is being grown at The Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). A milky-white substance that seeps from the roots of this species of dandelion is used to produce the rubber.

Ford says the dandelion-based plastic is not yet in its vehicles because the company’s engineers are still testing the substance’s durability. In Blanco’s post, auto experts applaud the move but say the industry has to go a long way to reduce its reliance on petroleum.

Source: “Ford Says There’s Wealth in Weeds,” The New York Times, 05/11/11
Image by HowDeeDoodat (Steven Harrell), used under its Creative Commons license.

Rajendrani "Raj" Mukhopadhyay is a science writer and editor who contributes news stories and feature articles on scientific advances to a variety of magazines. Raj holds Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University.