Dandelion rubber

Milk of the dandelion could help to meet rising demand for natural rubber

A close relative of our dandelion will become a new supplier of rubber © 4028mdk09 / CC-by-sa 3.0
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Weeds as raw material suppliers: Researchers have discovered a new way to produce the sought after natural rubber. They produce it from Russian dandelions instead of the tropical rubber tree. A big advantage here: The dandelion grows almost everywhere, so no rainforest must be cut down for him.

About 40, 000 products in our daily lives contain natural rubber. Whether mattresses, gloves, adhesive strips or tires - only this raw material gives them their elasticity, tensile strength and low-temperature flexibility. But the production of the rubber is not without problems. Until now, natural rubber has been produced exclusively from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) that grows in Southeast Asia. There, however, more and more rainforests are being cleared and in the plantations harmful fungi are on the increase.

Latex from the dandelion

The problem here: Although there are countless varieties of plastic from petroleum products, natural rubber can not be replaced by artificial. However, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Münster have now discovered an inexpensive and environmentally friendly alternative to the rubber tree: the Russian dandelion (Taraxacum koksaghyz).

The idea came to the researchers by chance, during a trip into the countryside: "I sat in a meadow in the Sauerland, which was covered with dandelions, " says Dirk Prüfer from IME. "When I broke off a flower, white latex milk dripped from the stalk. Since I had the idea that you could gain from this rubber. "

From Russian dandelion Christian Schulze Gronover, Carla Recker and Dirk Prüfer natural rubber, which is used for the production of car tires. Dirk Mahler / Fraunhofer

Russian style best suited

But the amount of latex rubber in liquid form in the domestic dandelion is not enough to use it industrially. For this reason, the researchers continued the work with the Russian dandelion, which produces significantly more rubber. display

"The plant is extremely undemanding, " explains Christian Schulze Gronover from IME. "It can be cultivated in temperate climates and even on soils that are not or only partially suitable for the production of food and feed." Another advantage of the dandelion: Unlike a tree, it grows from year to year. The rubber tree brings only after seven to ten years a yield.

Raw material is in the root

Through targeted breeding, the researchers were able to double the rubber content of the Russian dandelion within a short time. They renounced genetic engineering intervention. Pr fer and Schulze Gronover instead analyzed the dandelion DNA and defined DNA markers. As a result, they have already been able to determine in the case of seedlings whether they have properties that have a positive effect on the production of rubber.

Removing the rubber from the plant was another challenge. The scientists developed an environmentally friendly process for this. Since the proportion in the leaves is low, only the roots are ground. The raw material is then separated from the other substances with water.

Practice test already passed

In car tires, the dandelion rubber has already proven itself. The manufacturer Continental has tested a first model on asphalt. "The rubber from dandelion has optimal raw material and material properties. The tires show a comparable property profile compared to tires made of conventional natural rubber, "says Carla Recker from Continental.

As natural rubber is crucial for the quality of many rubber products, it is a strategically important raw material for many countries. Dandelion rubber could reduce the dependency of imports. He can not replace them, says Pr fer. "In order to meet the world demand for natural rubber with dandelion, one would need an area as big as Austria." For her research on the Russian dandelion as well as the development Dirk Pr fer, Christian Schulze Gronover and Carla Recker have both been awarded the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize 2015.

(Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, 09.06.2015 - NPO)