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June 3rd, 2011

Rubber match – dandelions could hold trump card

Published on June 3rd, 2011 | By: Eileen De Guire
The dandelion - weed or commodity crop?

The dandelion – weed or commodity crop? Credit: Matt H. Wade; Wikipedia

It’s Friday, which means many of us will be mowing grass, grooming our gardens, and conducting physical or chemical warfare against dandelions.

Before you start thinking unkind thoughts about the neighborhood kids delighting in blowing the seeds into the breeze, consider that research is underway at the Ohio BioProducts Innovation Center at Ohio State University that could convert the variety known as TKS (mercifully short for Taraxacum kok-saghyz) into a commodity crop for producing natural rubber.

It turns out that the taproot of this variety produces a high-quality natural rubber similar to the natural rubber produced by the Pará Rubber Tree, which is the only existing commodity source of rubber worldwide for industrial products, such as tires. (It must take a LOT of dandelions to match the output of even one rubber tree.)

Actually, TKS’s rubber-producing ability has been known since the 1930s, but according to a recent story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ford is looking at the TKS as a sustainable source and, and also may use its rubber as a possible modifier to improve the impact strength of plastics. Possible applications for the dandelion rubber include interior plastic trim, bumper covers, or an part that is part-plastic and part-rubber, according to an article at GreenBiz.com.

Supported by a $3 million grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Wright Projects Program, the plant is being evaluated for it ethanol-generating potential, too.

Ironically, managing weeds is a key challenge to the cultivation of TKS, according the Plain Dealer article.

Somehow that seems fair.


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