Let's just say rubber has a flowery future.
There are some things that work the same way they have for years. Firearms still use gunpowder, paper is still (for the most part) made from mashed up trees, and tires are still made from rubber. But one of the world's rubber companies is working on a solution, and it's not from synthetics.
Continental AG is developing tires made from – wait for it – dandelions. That's right, those pesky flowers that spring up everywhere like the weeds they are. One of the world's largest automotive parts suppliers is actively working on producing tires from dandelions.
What's more is that it's been working on it for years. Continental, whose tire business alone is the fourth largest in the world (behind Bridgestone, Michelin, and Goodyear), started researching dandelion rubber in 2011. It started testing the first prototypes in 2014, and broke ground on its new dedicated research center a little over a year ago. And it's now open for business.
Some 20 researchers will initially work at the facility covering 30,000 square meters (about seven and a half acres), resulting from an investment of €35 million (~$40m) as part of Continental's comprehensive Vision 2025 strategy for future development.
The researchers will be tasked with perfecting the methods to farm, extract, and manufacture the dandelions into tires. The material is sourced from Russia instead of rubber trees in tropical regions, ostensibly making it more sustainable.
“We have been working to understand the molecular basis of the rubber biosynthesis in the dandelion plant for many years,” said Professor Dirk Prüfer of the University of Münster at the opening. “With the new test laboratory, Continental has broken new ground that makes this transfer concept highly viable.”