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Tire technology of the future: Environmentally friendly tires made from dandelions

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A car tires are mainly made from petroleum. That will soon be history: Tires are already made with a high proportion of renewable raw materials. In some types of tires, the proportion of natural substances is almost 30 percent. In addition to artificial raw materials such as synthetic rubber, industrially produced soot and various additives that continue to come from the chemical factory, it is mainly natural rubber and rapeseed oil, which is used as a plasticizer. But natural rubber is quite expensive, also because of its transport from areas near the equator.

Inexpensive alternative to natural rubber

Cheaper alternatives are in demand - and not just since yesterday. As early as the 1940s, the Soviets were looking for a replacement and found what they were looking for in the roots of the Russian dandelion (Latin: Taraxacum). Natural rubber can be obtained from its milky sap, just like from the rubber tree. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Münster, together with chemists and engineers from Continental, succeeded in developing a process for the production of tire rubber. The logical name: Taraxagum.

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The enlarged root of the dandelion with increased rubber content.

On the way from garden weeds to rubber supplier, the inconspicuous Caucasian dandelion had to be optimized and adapted in several points for the tire industry: mainly through classic breeding succeeded in growing plants with enlarged roots and increasing the rubber content of the milk they contain. In addition, the enlarged roots allow efficient mechanical harvesting, as is the case with potatoes.

Taraxagumfor even more grip?

We are working on that. The tread compound is still a tire's best-kept secret. It essentially consists of natural and synthetic rubber as well as fillers such as carbon black or silica, oils and sulfur. Through vulcanization (heating the mixture to around 120–160 ° C), the macromolecules of both types of rubber form long-chain polymers that are cross-linked by sulfur bridges - rubber is created. By intelligently mixing the individual components, the properties of the tire rubber can be influenced within wide limits.

The advantage of the often more expensive natural rubber compared to many synthetic rubbers is that it remains much more flexible at low temperatures. High proportions of the expensive rubber ensure the best grip on snow and ice, especially with winter tires. A cheap material obtained from the dandelion root could ensure or even improve the performance of such tires at an affordable level in the future.

Tires under cost pressure

It's no secret: Conti's incentive for this future investment is of course the lower production costs. Primarily, the need for expensive crude oil products and conventional natural rubber is reduced, and since the undemanding dandelion can be grown on fallow fields near factories even in inhospitable areas of Europe, the overall shorter transport routes also reduce CO2 emissions.

How far is the development? The first harvests of rubber made in Germany have already come in and the first test tires have been baked. The alternative tire material is currently being tested in winter tires. The first Conti Winter Contact TS 850 P with a Taraxagum mixture are currently being tested on Nordic slopes. Whether dandelion tires already bite as powerfully as conventional tires and what the technology can do with sporty summer tires has yet to be proven. According to Conti, the market launch is expected in 2020 at the earliest.

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Environmentally friendly and competitive: dandelions for rubber production.

Conclusion: To the roots

The rubber obtained from the milk of the Russian dandelion should be used inQuality and consistency correspond to those obtained from the rubber tree and can therefore be used for the production of tires and other rubber items without serious process changes. As a rubber donor, dandelions could provide new impetus for Europe's agriculture: While a classic rubber tree can only be used to collect milk after around seven years of growth, dandelions can be harvested just one year after cultivation. An attractive aspect for farmers who could react relatively quickly and flexibly to demand.

In order to meet the demand for more and more tires and to compensate for the competitive disadvantages of long transport routes compared to Asian suppliers, the European rubber processors are looking for Alternatives. With the dandelion rubber Taraxagum, Conti is on the ecologically correct path. Because only that can be grown on site in Europe.

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