July 25, 2016

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Dandelions stretch Ohio rubber supply

OSU Extension Medina County

The drive to develop an alternative source of natural rubber that can grow in Ohio has received another boost, thanks to a competitive grant awarded by the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and funds contributed by Veyance Technologies, the global manufacturer of Goodyear Engineered Products.

OARDC — the research arm of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences — is working with university and industry partners to domesticate Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS), a type of dandelion native to the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that produces high-quality, abundant latex in its taproot.

“Developing and introducing new products is no small task. It requires focused R&D and close ties with the market,” said Bill Ravlin, OARDC associate director and principal investigator in the TKS project. “Linking OARDC with Veyance Technologies to develop a domestic source of natural rubber is essential. By the end of this project we will know that rubber produced from Russian dandelions grown in Ohio will suit the needs of the industry and, more importantly, we will have cemented a relationship with a key company. Needless to say, we are very excited about working with Veyance.”

The TKS research and commercialization project received $50,000 from the OARDC Research Enhancement Competitive Grants Program, whose goal is to stimulate new collaborations among scientists from different disciplines and between OARDC and private-sector partners.

Akron-based Veyance, the world’s No. 1 conveyor belt maker and the leading non-tire user of natural rubber for other industrial and automotive products like hose, power transmission belts, hydraulics, air springs and rubber tracks, has provided additional funds and resources to help support analysis of rubber yield and quality in four different populations of TKS plants.

“Veyance fully supports the TKS project and is excited about the possibility of developing a viable alternative to natural rubber,” said Dave Maguire, vice president of global technology for Veyance. “We will be able to utilize our Ohio facilities, including a new innovation center in Fairlawn, a conveyor belt technical center and plant in Marysville, and a rubber track technical center and plant in St. Marys, to help test natural rubber alternatives for compatibility in our products.”

Natural rubber is key to transportation, defense and many other industries. But the United States has to import 100 percent of this resource from abroad, as the only commercially available source of natural rubber today is the Brazilian rubber tree, which grows almost exclusively in southeast Asia. Additionally, natural rubber inventories are becoming alarmingly scarce and costs have increased almost seven-fold since 2002.

On June 26, the TKS project was awarded a $3 million Third Frontier Wright Projects Program grant from the state of Ohio, which recognized the initiative’s potential to create new industries and jobs by bringing together the state’s agricultural and rubber-products sectors. Most of this grant will go toward building a pilot-scale processing facility in Wooster that will generate 20 metric tons of rubber a year for industrial testing.

In addition to latex, Russian dandelion roots contain high amounts of inulin, a carbohydrate that can be turned into ethanol. In other words, TKS can yield two highly strategic products from just one crop.

Other TKS project partners include the Bridgestone Americas Center for Technology and Research, Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, the Ohio Bio-Products Innovation Center, Oregon State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Miller may be reached at 330-725-4911.