Dandelions are much more than just pesky weeds. They lend their greens to salads and can be transformed into wines and other botanical beverages.
Now, the yellow-flowered plant has become the key ingredient in a new venture: rubber tires.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company announced a new initiative to accelerate the use of natural rubber made from dandelions instead of relying on latex made from rubber trees—sourced primarily from tropical ecosystems—that comprises 90 percent of the current natural rubber market.
The species of dandelions, known as Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TK for short), can grow in temperate climates within the US. The roots of this type of dandelion contain natural rubber latex. And unlike the seven-year turnaround time a rubber tree requires to produce the latex needed to make rubber, these dandelions can be harvested in just six months.
For the multi-year and multi-million-dollar program, Goodyear has partnered with the US Department of Defense, the Air Force Research Lab and BioMADE. The group will work with Farmed Materials—an Ohio-based company that “develops and commercializes agriculturally derived, sustainable, high-performance polymers”—to cultivate a domestic source of rubber made from American-grown dandelions.
As the supply of natural rubber—a substance so important globally that it’s classified as a “critical raw material,” according to BBC—shows signs of running low due to factors such as climate change, the demand is growing.
Goodyear hopes to address that problem with this new initiative. “Global demand for natural rubber continues to grow, and it remains a key raw material for the tire industry,” Chris Helsel, senior vice president of global operations and chief technology officer for Goodyear, said in a press release. “This is a critical time to develop a domestic source of natural rubber, which may help mitigate future supply chain challenges.”
According to the release, initial yields of the dandelions grown as part of a pilot program conducted by Farmed Materials were strong. The new partnership will provide the funding needed for further plantings.
Beginning this spring, the program will fund the planting and harvesting of TK dandelions in Ohio. The resulting rubber will first be used for military aircraft tires. It will be put through “rigorous” testing at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. If all goes well, according to Goodyear, the company’s goal is to use the dandelion-based rubber in all its tires.