All tyre manufacturers have been complaining about the continued rise in the cost of raw materials. Now one producer is tackling the problem by investing in what could be an environmental solution to the problem. Cooper tyres are investing in The Program of Excellence in Natural Rubber Alternatives (PENRA), which conducts research into new sources of rubber. One possibility that is being considered is the Russian Dandelion, whose scientific name is Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS). The roots of the Russian Dandelion can be processed into a rubber, which could be used as the polymer for compound components of a tyre, such as the sidewall, the base and tread.
Cooper is pleased to be adding this project to its green policy for tyre production. Chuck Yurkovich, vice-president of Global Technology at Cooper Tyres, said, “Cooper is extremely excited to participate in this innovative ‘green’ project. This new process involves forward-thinking technology with potential to bring a competitive substitute supply of natural rubber that will be produced in the United States, reducing our dependency on off shore imports. In addition to providing a supply of natural rubber that is critical to a number of industries, it’s also an opportunity for Cooper to remain competitive in the market place with an environmentally friendly product that creates jobs here in the United States”.
Tests show that TKS has a similar molecular structure to Hevea (the Brazilian Rubber Tree), which is the major source of natural rubber. The new rubber will be tested over the next three or four years, before it can be used for small-scale tyre production. PENRA believes that the new substance has the potential to supply 30 percent of the current rubber requirements, which costs approximately $3 billion per year.
According to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Centre, which is working on the development of alternative sources of natural rubber, Russian Dandelions are relatively easy to grow, and could offer farmers greater profits than traditional crops.
The idea is not totally new, it was considered during the 2nd World War, but the idea was shelved after the war as the old rubber supply lines reopened.