Could rubber come from sunflowers and dandelions in the future?
The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis), native to the Amazon rainforest, is now grown across the world; in Asia, Africa and Latin America. While synthetic rubber is used in many products, the demand for natural rubber is still high, especially for use in tyres and car parts.
Research published earlier in 2015 in the scientific journal, Global Environmental Change, found that poor farming methods are impacting on the global supply of natural rubber. In Southeast Asia, the study reported that more than half of rubber plantations may not be sustainable. The researchers, from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and the World Agroforestry Centre, called for more efficient rubber management and policies.
But could plants other than the rubber tree provide an efficient alternative? Aside from Hevea, there are more than 2,000 plants that can yield rubber latex. The most promising of these are guayule (Parthenium argentatum) and the Russian dandelion (Taraxacum kok-saghyz Rodin).
Car manufacturers, such as Ford, have recognized this potential and are investing in research and development of alternative rubber sources. In 2016 they expect to unveil a rubber prototype from both guayule and dandelion roots.
US tyre manufacturer, Cooper, is expected to roll out a complete tyre from guayule-derived parts by 2017. Japanese tyre maker, Bridgestone, projects that sometime in the 2020s, guayule rubber could be used in tyres for commercial distribution.
Scientists from Washington State University have also identified prickly lettuce (Lactuca serriola) as a potential source of raw material for rubber production. A member of the sunflower family and native to the Mediterranean, the leaves, roots and stems of the prickly lettuce give off a milky sap when damaged.
Meanwhile, the US-based agricultural biotechnology firm, Edison Agrosciences, is investigating developing rubber from commercially-grown sunflowers.
Read the full story: Biorubber can boost rubber security
Download the study published in Global Environmental Change:
Ahrends A et al. (2015) Current trends of rubber plantation expansion may threaten biodiversity and livelihoods. Global Environmental Change 34: 48-58.