Numerous manufacturers of tires are searching for a more sustainable and eco-friendly source of rubber and one German tire company is using dandelions. Dandelion rubber tires will lessen the amount of landfill waste, decrease deforestation and reduce the economic burden of rubber tree cultivation, experts said.
While this isn’t a new practice, dandelions haven’t been used to manufacture rubber since the Second World War. The Soviet Union first discovered dandelions as a natural source of rubber in 1931 to “help the USSR become self-sufficient in key materials,” according to DW. But shortages of Hevea rubber from Hevea plantations during the Second World War made other countries, including the U.S., the UK and Germany, follow suit. Once the war was over, these countries went back to using Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper and the supply was greater.
As the demand for rubber continues to grow today, the tire industry has a renewed interest in the Russian dandelion. And both Europe and the U.S. have developed projects to make dandelion rubber commercially viable.
Dandelions, once harvested, go through a “hot-water extraction” process to separate out the rubber. There are no large volumes of chemicals needed during this process unlike Hevea rubber extraction.
But while dandelions use fewer chemicals and is sought to be a greener solution to Hevea rubber, they still leave an environmental impact. Scientists said dandelion tires “shed microplastics, which are then carried on air and end up in oceans,” DW reported. A recent study by IUCN found that tires amounted for 28 percent of the microplastics found in the oceans each year.
Proponents of the dandelion argue that “as demand rises, we need a source of rubber that doesn’t rely on expanding into new areas of forest,” DW reported. This greener option could mean fewer CO2 emissions from transport in the future.