Researchers at Ford (NYSE: F) and Ohio State University are investigating dandelions as a new sustainable resource for rubber.
The dandelion being studied at Ohio State's Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) is a Russian variety, called Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS). A milky-white substance that seeps from the roots of this species is used to produce the rubber.
Ford says it could potentially use the substance as a plastics modifier, to help improve the impact strength of plastics. The material might then be used in places such as cupholders, floor mats and interior trim.
"We're always looking for new sustainable materials to use in our vehicles that have a smaller carbon footprint to produce and can be grown locally," said Angela Harris, Ford research engineer. "Synthetic rubber is not a sustainable resource, so we want to minimize its use in our vehicles when possible. Dandelions have the potential to serve as a great natural alternative to synthetic rubber in our products."
Before the dandelion-derived rubber can be put to use, Ford researchers will assess the initial quality of the material to evaluate how it will perform in a variety of plastics that are used in vehicles and to ensure it meets durability standards.
"It's strange to see weeds being grown in perfectly manicured rows in a greenhouse, but these dandelions could be the next sustainable material in our vehicles," said Harris.
Besides the dandelion, the team also is looking into the use of guayule (a southwestern U.S. shrub) as a natural rubber, which is provided by OARDC and can also be grown domestically.
Over the past several years Ford has concentrated on increasing the use of nonmetal recycled and bio-based materials whenever possible, provided these materials are environmentally favorable in the specific application. Examples include soy foam seat cushions, wheat straw-filled plastic, recycled resins for underbody systems, recycled yarns on seat covers and natural-fiber plastic for interior components.
Photo by aussiegall/flickr/Creative Commons
Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business