Balkrishna Industries Limited (BKT), an Off-Highway tyre manufacturer headquartered in India, has entered into a joint research agreement with Kultevat, Inc., a US biotechnology company that specialises in the cultivation and processing of TKS Dandelion as a renewable and sustainable alternative for natural rubber.
The purpose of the agreement is the development of new compounding methods based on TKS Rubber to be integrated in the tyre manufacturing process. All studies, analyses, experimentation and testing will be carried out at BKT´s recently inaugurated R&D centre known as “Suresh Poddar Innovation Hub” stretching over an area of 25 acres within the company’s latest and largest production site in Bhuj, India.
The R&D Centre was officially inaugurated last year with the announcement of a series of ambitious projects related to sustainable materials, including research into alternatives to natural and synthetic rubber as well as the development of high-performance compounds with nanomaterials and nanocomposites. This major R&D project is part of the company’s commitment to sustainability and innovation as well as fully in line with latest industry requirements and the European Commission’s recommendations concerning critical raw materials.
The agreement between Kultevat and BKT assumes enormous significance if world natural rubber consumption is expected to be 17 million tonnes by 2025. The increasing global demand, especially in the tyre industry, will soon lead to a shortage of this raw material.
Hevea brasiliensis is a native tree from South America and presently the only commercial source for natural rubber, which is mainly produced in Asia. The issues about Hervea is the long lead time, which means that crops need at least 6 to 8 years before they can be harvested the first time. In addition, there is land scarcity for plantation in Equatorial Zone. To meet the aforementioned demand, 8.5 million hectares of additional plantations would be required. This cannot but lead to a dead end in a very short time.
Like other tyre manufacturers, BKT says it has been working on substitute raw material solutions, mainly guayule and dandelion. BKT has opted for dandelion because of its higher latex content. This plant grows annually even in moderate climates. Its roots contain about 15% of latex, which can be used as raw material for making rubber. Russian dandelion was already used during another period of rubber shortage in Europe after World War II. Its use became basically forgotten after the invention of synthetic rubber. Thanks to advanced biotechnology and environmentally friendly processes, Kultevat is able to supply TKS rubber in bulk.