April 12, 2024

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

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Dandy New Tires

Spring is here, but don’t go pulling those weeds quite yet.

Just this week, Goodyear announced a new project with the Department of Defense, the Air Force Research Lab and BioMADE to work with an Ohio-based company called Farmed Materials. The goal is to develop a domestic source of natural rubber. What’s it going to be made from? Dandelions.

Or, to be more specific, a particular type of dandelion: Taraxacum kok-saghyz. So maybe not the ones in your yard.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t a new development — but it is one that we haven’t seen in scale since the end of the Second World War. The U.S., the UK, Germany and the USSR did this very thing when rubber was in short supply, the programs ceased at the close of the war. But TKS gained new attention in an era of latex allergies, and Continental AG did start working with it again around 2019 to produce a bike tire.

Vulcanization has so far been a bell that can’t be unrung. Once natural rubber has been processed into a tire, that’s where it stays. You can’t — or at least science hasn’t yet been able to — pull that natural rubber back out of an old, shot tire for another use. 

As such, natural rubber is a strategic asset — the military uses plenty of tires to do their job — and it’s an asset that the U.S. generally imports from tropical areas. But with supplies of everything limited because of our current health and political climate, it stands to reason that development around raw materials would start to enter the conversation. 

I doubt anyone assumed we’d be talking about dandelions in the same breath as tires, but does anything surprise you much anymore?

The program looked at over 2.500 species of plants, but only found a few that had properties that would work in tire construction. Initial testing has yielded positive results, so the group is moving to gain additional funding for more planting. This is a multi-year multi-million-dollar deal with the DoD, which means funding shouldn’t be an issue.

The key here, other than the fact that TKS is easy to source domestically, is the fact that a harvest can take place much more frequently using the weeds than it can using latex-producing trees. TKS dandelions also can grow in a more temperate climate, which makes them a good choice for U.S. production — particularly in Ohio.

What’s this mean for you? Well, if Goodyear is successful, that means the tires on your classic car could change — and they may get cheaper. Eventually. Muscle car guys, get ready for a new world of of weed-smoking jokes.

In the meantime, now you have a good excuse when the neighbors ask about those weeds you haven’t pulled out of your lawn yet — Well, Carol, haven’t you heard?

But good luck getting the kids or grandkids to stop picking them.