Dandelions are modest plants that are an excellent alternative source for a raw material of high demand: natural rubber, the fundamental ingredient in rubber products. Fraunhofer researchers have established the basis for the large-scale production of high quality rubber with Russian dandelion.
Approximately 40,000 products of everyday life contain natural rubber. It’s the material that provides extreme elasticity, tensile strength and low-temperature flexibility in products from mattresses and gloves to adhesive tape and tires. As yet, it has no artificial replacement. However, researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME were able to identify a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative to the natural rubber tree: the dandelion.
Currently, all our natural rubber comes from Hevea brasiliensis, a tree that grows under subtropical climate. Increasing demands and potential problems with a devestating fungus have made natural rubber into a valuable resource. Southeast Asia accounts for 95% of global production. In order to meet growing demands, producers turn rainforest into agricultural land. Now Professor Dirk Prüfer and his colleague Dr. Christian Schulze Gronover from Fraunhofer IME in Münster are developing Taraxacum kok-saghyz, also known as Russian dandelion, as an efficient replacement for the natural rubber tree. “The plant is extremely resilient, able to grow in moderate climates and even in soil that is not or just barely suited for the cultivation of food and feed crops,” explains Christian Schulze Gronover. “Dandelions also have the advantage of growing anually. The natural rubber tree takes between seven and ten years to deliver the first harvest.”
Dirk Prüfer decided to investigate the dandelion after a sudden insight on a day out. “I was sitting in a meadow in the Sauerland region in Germany, and it was absolutely covered with dandelions. Having plucked the flower off one of them, I was wondering if the expelling white latex contains rubber.” However, Germany’s native dandelions don’t produce sufficient quantities of rubber for being industrially viable. That’s why the researchers subsequently turned their attention to the Russian dandelion, which produces large amounts of natural rubber.
No genetic modification
With the help of precision breeding, the researchers were quickly able to double the amount of natural rubber in the Russian dandelion. This was achieved without genetic modification; instead, Dirk Prüfer and Christian Schulze Gronover analyzed the dandelion’s genome and identified suitable DNA markers. These genetic tools could tell already in a very early stage of plant development if a given plant will possess an efficient rubber production.
Extraction of natural rubber from the plant was another challenge. To this end, the scientists developed an eco-friendly technique whereby only the roots are pulverized because the leaves contain very little rubber. At the end of the process, water is used to separate the resource from the other substances.
New natural rubber successfully undergoes practical testing
The performance of tires made of dandelion natural rubber has already proven in action, and manufacturer Continental has tested a first version. “The dandelion natural rubber has ideal material properties. The tires are equivalent to those made from Hevea natural rubber,” says Dr. Carla Recker of Continental.
Since natural rubber is critical to the quality of many rubber products, industrialized nations in particular regard it as a strategically important resource. Natural rubber obtained from dandelions could reduce the dependence on imports from Asia. However, if the entire world production will be based on dandelion rubber, one would need the size of Austria for its cultivation. Thus, Dirk Prüfer points out that rubber from dandelion will not replace the actual source, but will compensate the additional demand in the future.
For their work on the Russian dandelion and its application as a source of natural rubber, Dirk Prüfer, Christian Schulze Gronover and Carla Recker are recipients of the 2015 Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize.
Sabine Dzuck | Fraunhofer Research News
Newly designed molecule binds nitrogen
23.02.2018 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Atomic Design by Water
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH
A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.
In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...
A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.
By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...
Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine
23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy