Growing sustainably For a Greener Future
Dandelion rubber: A viable new source of natural rubber
Imagine a world where rubber is sustainably sourced. It comes from plants that grow in land not otherwise suitable for cultivation. Land closer to production facilities and the rest of the supply chain. It could save precious resources, provide much needed sustainable income and reduce cradle to grave carbon emissions. This is what we imagined in 2014.
Today we don’t have to imagine. Today we have already cultivated and made tyres from a new source of rubber. We’re not finished yet but each advancement brings excitement and opportunity. And moves us one step closer to the ultimate goal of complete carbon neutrality in all downstream and upstream operations.
The world is currently dependent on rubber sourced from the rubber belt (the region about 700 miles each side of the equator). So in 2014, we partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology & Applied Ecology, to see if we could cultivate rubber from a different plant. A plant not dependent on such a specific geographic location and conditions for growth. This would reduce the burden on fragile tropical ecosystems and move the plants themselves closer to the point of manufacture.
The only alternative currently available is synthetic rubber. But that uses crude oil as a primary ingredient, so comes with its own issues. So what is the answer? What’s the most sustainable way forward?
We think it’s Taraxacum Kok-saghyz, otherwise known as the Russian Dandelion. It doesn’t resemble the dandelion we are used to. But it does have a remarkable similarity to the Rubber Tree. It can produce rubber which is chemically identical. It can also be cultivated in vast areas of land not suitable for food production and it can be grown with greater speed. A rubber tree takes up to 7 years to produce latex. Our trials have shown it is possible to extract latex from a dandelion after just 6 months.
A tyre for tomorrow’s roads
In 2015, we produced the first tyres made from dandelion rubber and trademarked the name Taraxagum. The test results were nearly identical to tyres made from traditional rubber sources. Then in late 2017, we committed NZ$60 million to a new 30,000 metre research facility, located in Anklam, Germany. The Taraxagum Lab Anklam Fesearch Facility will greatly accelerate the research and development of Taraxagum tyres, moving us closer to the full scale cultivation of Russian dandelion and mass latex extraction.
In 2019, we launched the Continental Urban Taraxagum bicycle tyre and won the ‘Responsible Design’ category Award at the 2021 German Sustainability Awards. The Urban Taraxagum is the first production tyre to make it to market and we imagine it will be followed sometime in the very near future by a production car tyre.