Science! By Aug. 25, 2014 11:41 am
Your manly muscle car may soon burn dandelion rubber | Science! |

If biologists have their way, when you’re playing chicken and burning hot rubber toward the edge of a cliff to impress a gal you dig at your 1950s high school, you might actually be burning hot dandelion. The tire industry uses two-thirds of the world’s natural rubber, so in an effort to break that reliance, Dutch biologist Ingrid van der Meer and a team of researchers are working on a way to turn dandelions into rubber.

Normally, dandelions are an invasive weed, something you blow on that never helps wishes come true, or what your preachy coworker swears is better for you to eat than meat. Now, though, biologists are working on a way to breed a dandelion — native to Kazakhstan — with a taproot that has a milky fluid which in turn contains tire-grade rubber particles.

While tapping dandelions for tiny rubber particles may seem like a tedious way to make giant-by-comparison tires for millions of vehicles, scientists have made significant progress. A team of US scientists found that, per hectare, dandelion crops produce as much rubber as rubber tree plantations. Furthermore, biologists have been able to modify dandelions to be more convenient to harvest, such as by making them grow taller and thus easier for machines to pluck.

Rubber crops are actually susceptible to disaster, thanks to a type of fungus that can ruin plantations. Adding this new type of rubber crop could help stabilize that market and provide an efficient alternative in case disaster strikes.

Despite the fact that your red Camaro is super manly, making its wheels out of dandelions is so viable that giant tire corporations, such as Bridgestone, are funneling millions of dollars into the research. Standard consumer cars need to have 10% to 40% natural rubber in their tires in order to survive the elements — which is actually a high number for rubber production, despite the low percentage. However, the dandelion research appears to be so promising that the next time you laugh in the face of death and play chicken, you might be doing so thanks to pretty flowers.

Image credit: R. Nial Bradshaw

Your manly muscle car may soon burn dandelion rubber | Science! |


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