You won’t believe what they’re making tires out of now
In a world first, tire manufacturer Continental has successfully produced and tested tires made using dandelions as an alternative source of natural rubber. They’ve been so successful the company intends to have the tires available for sale in a matter of years.
The humble dandelion has long been recognized as a virulent weed by gardeners the world over; however Continental, with The Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology, Julius Kuehn-Institute, and EK USA, has found a revolutionary use for the plant.
How a weed gets tires rolling
The roots of a particular Russian species of dandelion contain the natural rubber latex used for tire production that is currently almost exclusively sourced from rubber trees. Despite being in worldwide demand, rubber trees aren’t the easiest resource to cultivate. They take about seven years of growing before they start producing the latex that is used in rubber production and they grow in relatively small areas around the equator, such as in South America and West Africa. At the moment the special properties of natural rubber can’t be reproduced synthetically, which is why Continental turned its attention to other organic materials to find a suitable raw alternative.
The dandelion, in contrast, has a host of benefits. “In agricultural terms, dandelions are an undemanding plant, growing in moderate climates, even in the northern hemisphere, and can be cultivated on land not suitable for food production,” said Continental project head Dr. Carla Recker.
“This means that rubber production is conceivable near our tire factories, for instance, and the significantly shorter transport routes would also reduce CO2 emissions.”
An alternative raw material to latex from rubber plants would also ease pressure on global demand and reduce price fluctuations that affect tire manufacturers.
Watch the video on Continental’s dandelion tires.
Dandelion tires have come a long way in a short time
At the ContiWinterRoadshow in 2014, Continental presented the first test tires made from the new material, which it calls Taraxagum, derived from the botanical name for the dandelion (taraxacum). Continental’s Taraxagum tires have a tread that is made 100 percent out of dandelion-derived natural rubber as a polymer. The company has plans in place to begin manufacturing consumer road tires made from this material in five to 10 years.
Dr. Peter Zmolek, director of research and development of passenger and light truck tires for Continental Tire the Americas, said tests of the Taraxagum tires in 2014 were conducted under summer and winter conditions in Germany and Sweden, with ‘encouraging results’ that showed the project was well on track.
Between 10 and 30 percent of a car tire includes natural rubber, while truck tires can include proportionally higher amounts. The company said the manufacture of the first WinterContact TS 850 P with natural rubber from dandelion roots took Continental a step closer to its long-term goal of making tire production more sustainable and less dependent on traditional raw materials.
The tires are not Continental’s only foray into using dandelion-derived rubber. In 2015 it produced an engine mount made of natural rubber from dandelion roots at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt. It should be ready for production in a few years’ time.
“The initial test results are very promising,” says Dr. Anna Misiun, who leads the research activities on natural rubber from dandelion roots at ContiTech Vibration Control. “One of the biggest challenges will be obtaining the material on an industrial scale.”
More tires are being produced using ‘unusual’ materials
Continental is not the only tire manufacturer who has used unusual raw materials in tire production. In 2011, at Europe’s annual auto show, Goodyear announced the world’s first tire made from a compound derived from corn.
The Goodyear GT3 tires use a starch-based filler material called BioTRED, a compound that partially replaces the conventional black carbon and silica used in tire production.
In 2014 Cooper Tire began testing tires made with a polymer made from guayule – a flowering desert scrub, while Yokohama has used orange oil to reduce the amount of petroleum utilized in the rubber compound of a racing tire.
Not only do these alternative raw materials perform as well as the traditional ones, in some cases they are surpassing them. And with a carbon-neutral sports cars made of hemp being recently unveiled, just imagine what the industry will be creating tires out of in 10 years’ time.
Find out more about Continental’s dandelion tires on its website.