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Continental developing weed-based tire rubber

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Well, isn’t this dandy.

Tiremaker Continental is developing a new type of rubber made from weeds.

The company is looking to industrialize a process where latex produced in the roots of fast-growing dandelions replaces latex extracted from rubber trees in its products.

Dr. Boris Mergell, Continental’s VP for Product Development & Industrialization Commercial Vehicle Tires, says the company’s tires typically contain between 10 to 40 percent natural rubber, all of which is sourced from tree plantations located in subtropical regions.

The volatility of the prices and production of the material is high due to the weather in those parts of the world, as well as the local business practices and political situations in many of the countries where the trees are grown.

By using dandelions, Continental hopes to bring production of the material closer to home, possibly right outside its factories, and save on the cost of shipping and lower the company’s overall carbon footprint in the process.

Tire rubber is a mix of natural and synthetic rubbers that are traditionally petroleum-based, but many manufacturers, including Continental, are looking to increase their use of renewable sources, such as rapeseed oil, as well.

Mergell says one hectare of dandelions could produce as much latex as the same size plot of trees, and that it is a one for one swap of the ingredients in the rubber formulation.

But not any garden variety weed will do. A specific species of Russian dandelion that was chosen for its particularly high yield of latex is being cultivated for the project.

Nevertheless, it could be grown just about anywhere in the world and new farms are capable of producing latex within one or two years, compared to six for trees, which would allow for quick adjustments to market demand.

Continental hopes to have tires using the new rubber on sale within five years at a price similar to the conventional products on the market today.

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