Tyre firm Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company has entered into a multi-year, multi-million-dollar program supported by the US Department of Defense (DoD), the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and BioMADE to work with Ohio-based Farmed Materials to develop a domestic source of natural rubber from a specific species of dandelion.
Natural rubber has been classified as a strategic raw material that serves as a critical ingredient in military, aircraft and truck tyres. Today, more than 90% of the world’s natural rubber is made from latex derived from rubber trees and is primarily sourced from tropical locations outside of the US.
The program will build on research that analysed more than 2,500 species of plants but found only a few with properties suitable for use in tyres. Taraxacum kok-saghyz, a species of dandelion known as TK, has proven to be a valuable alternative to natural rubber trees.
Farmed Materials has shown initial positive results in pilot programs for TK, yielding strong harvests that necessitate the need for additional planting and funding.
“Global demand for natural rubber continues to grow, and it remains a key raw material for the tyre industry,” said Chris Helsel, senior vice president Global Operations and Chief Technology Officer for Goodyear. “This is a critical time to develop a domestic source of natural rubber, which may help mitigate future supply chain challenges.”
“This partnership highlights how BioMADE brings together companies of different sizes to solve critical problems,” said Melanie Tomczak, Chief Technology Officer at BioMADE. “We’re excited about this project, which holds a lot of promise for domestic rubber production and shows how bioindustrial manufacturing can help secure the domestic supply chain.”
While rubber trees typically take seven years to produce the latex needed for rubber production, dandelions can be harvested every six months. TK dandelions are also resilient and can grow in more temperate climates, such as Ohio.
Backed by the DoD, the collaboration of Goodyear, BioMADE and Farmed Materials will accelerate commercialization of TK, beginning in the spring of 2022 with the planting and harvesting of TK seeds in Ohio. The natural rubber produced will be used in the production of military aircraft tyres that will be built and tested under rigorous applications by Goodyear in cooperation with the AFRL at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
If additional testing provides promising results, Goodyear sees potential for the application of TK rubber to be used in all tyre applications.